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This year the conference was in beautiful Boise, Idaho. Great place. I also learned a lot about Basque culture. (I am sometimes amazed by what I do not know about the world and the people who inhabit it!) There was also a feast featuring Paella and Basque dancers. Potatoes are fantastic in Idaho.
Concerning the hearing process, I presented three sessions. There were many other excellent sessions offered including a useful diversity training. Keynotes by Justices of the Idaho and Oregon state supreme courts and an inspired defense of the rule of law by the Dean of the U of Idaho School of Law were each worth the price of admission.
I came away with two new thoughts. First, a good hearing officer must be a Renaissance person. A wide experience and world view coupled with appreciation for music, art, and life are minimum requirements.
Second, I got confirmation of a view I have been developing. A friend who is one of the foremost experts on Administrative law confirmed my newly-formed opinion that the reason that the federal and state Administrative Procedure Acts are vague regarding the hearing process is by design. Some experts believe that the law has not yet caught up to the reality of current day administrative law where the "trial" for many types of disputes takes place in an administrative hearing. Purists would have all "trials" take place before an Article III court (the judicial branch of government). If fact, today many disputes are resolved by administrative hearing officers (who are really part of the executive branch.) I disagree. I believe that the administrative hearing process is left vague in order to permit the administrative hearing officer to fashion procedures that will allow the fair presentation of evidence given the facts and circumstances of a dispute. This individualized justice ensures that the parties receive due process of law for a particular dispute and set of facts. Consistency is less important than fairness.