AZ legislation needed to insure justice and to stop OAH abuse

Legislation to stop further HOA abuse at the Arizona Office of Administrative Hearings is in order today. Signs of potential abuse are surfacing, and we must act ASAP to stop it immediately.

From the OAH website, “Pointers” link, here’s what OAH has to say in 2001 about pre-hearing conferences: THE PRE-HEARING CONFERENCE – IT WORKS (emphasis added).

Once a request for a hearing date is filed with the Office of Administrative Hearings, the parties can expect a setting within a quick and short time, leaving a precious minimum of adequate time for pre-hearing discovery and preparation. A pre-hearing conference will help counsel and parties to get around these two obstacles. Both discovery and a reasonable timeline – which will insure better preparation for an effective hearing – can be obtained through a pre-hearing conference. Early settlement discussions can also be triggered. . . . One possible negative of an early request, however, is that the other side may not be fully prepared, but this exposes a situation that you may wish to know early.

The above reads much like the “quick and dirty” technique — my words — of a motion for summary judgment, legal as it may be. It contains contradictory assertions that justice will be served due to pre-hearing conferences, and that the “other side may not be fully prepared, ” which in our HOA context applies to the Pro Per homeowner.

It appears that the two Petitions invoking the pre-hearing conference, of the first 3 OAH Petitions, reflects a move to “get the case quickly closed.” Note that the pre-hearing conference must be requested, and we know by whom, or by the sua sponte by the ALJ, “on his own”. My recollection of the initial 2006 – 2009 phase recalls just a few pre-conference hearings. The 2001 belief, unsupported in the HOA adjudication environment where the homeowner does not use an attorney, states,

Once a pre-hearing conference has been held, the Administrative Law Judge and counsel will know each other better. Subsequent status or telephonic conferences are easier to have once everyone knows each other better. Therein lies a powerful but not always evident benefit of an early pre-hearing conference – positive rapport and trust can be established among the participants.

There is a legitimate concern of an abuse of process. The belief expressed above assumes that the HOA attorney is acting in good faith and not abusing the process. However, 2008 legislation, in particular HB 272 4 and SB 1162, challenged this assumption (sadly, they were defeated). See Arizona HOA cases update — OAH and HOA adjudication at OAH: a rebirth of constitutionality, abuse, and legislation. There is no reassurance that justice will be done by this procedure — this is NOT civil court, and to turn OAH into civil court only serves the HOA attorneys.

There is no mention of allowing the homeowner to revise his Petition or Response, or to extend the hearing date, or to allow more time for discovery by the homeowner. The important value of OAH adjudication is to level the litigation playing field in the interest of fair play and justice, and not to force the homeowner to hire an attorney to deal with the rules of civil procedure as used in the courts. And I have a further concern, because (emphasis added)

Under the rules of the Office of Administrative Hearings, the Administrative Law Judge is not required to memorialize the outcome of a pre-hearing conference (see OAH procedural rule 19-112). Therefore, the best practice is to request that the Administrative Law Judge issue a written pre-hearing order memorializing all directives and agreements.

This means no minutes and no audiotaping which served the interests of justice so well in the first go-around of OAH adjudication in the 2006 – 2009 period. These invaluable hearing audiotapes exposed the conduct and attitudes of the HOA and its attorneys, allowing the public to hear the nature of the HOA’s evidence and justifications for its actions. It is hard to reconcile their performance at OAH with their public statements implying a good faith, for the community, motive.

It appears that the HOA attorneys, like their HOA clients, do not want the public to know what really goes on in HOAs — hurts property values. Homeowners demand justice and fair play, and expect the Legislature to act accordingly and to protect them from abuse — helps property values.

Published in: on October 18, 2011 at 9:22 am  Leave a Comment  
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