How Does the Office of Administrative Hearings Work?

How Does the Office of Administrative Hearings Work?

How Does the Office of Administrative Hearings Work?

The state government is involved in many aspects of our daily lives. We receive driver’s licenses from the DMV, the state issues professional licenses, businesses enter into state contracts, and children receive special education services required under state and federal law. Hundreds of government agencies provide these services to millions of Californians, so it is not surprising that many legal disputes can come up.

How does The Office of Administrative Hearings work? The Office of Administrative Hearings helps resolve disputes against state government entities. One of its most common functions is handling disciplinary matters against professional license holders. Unfortunately, scammers have used this fact to steal personal information from innocent victims. An experienced administrative attorney can help you protect your personal information from scammers.

An attorney can also help you preserve your substantive legal rights in matters pending at the legitimate Office. Learn more about the Office of Administrative Hearings’ legitimate functions and how you can protect yourself from becoming a target for scammers.

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What is the Office of Administrative Hearings?

The Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) hears administrative disputes on specific government matters. It provides a neutral forum to resolve disputes against the government. The OAH is part of the Department of General Services, which acts as a business manager for the state government. Though the OAH is part of the state government, it functions independently of the Department of General Services and provides fair resolution of administrative claims against the state.

Administrative Law Judges handle the cases brought before the OAH. An ALJ can adjudicate a case, but most of the disputes brought to the OAH go through alternative dispute resolution (such as mediation or arbitration). Over 1,500 state and local government agencies fall under the purview of the OAH.

What Matters Does the Office of Administrative Hearings Handle?

The OAH handles three broad categories of matters:

  1. General Jurisdiction

The OAH has general jurisdiction over various disputes involving thousands of state agencies.

These disputes can include:

  • Administrative disputes against the Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections
  • Appeals from decisions of the Department of Rehabilitation
  • Complaints against the Department of Child Support Services
  • Conflicts with the Department of State Hospitals regarding the involuntary administration of antipsychotic medications
  • Employment disputes between state workers and government agencies

While many specific disputes can arise in dealings with a particular government agency, professional licensure is the most common issue that falls under general jurisdiction.

  1. Special Education

State and federal laws provide protections for students in need of special education services. When someone allegedly violates a student’s special education rights, the OAH can adjudicate the dispute or mediate a solution with the school that should be providing services. The OAH also maintains a database of its decisions. This information is helpful to advocates, attorneys, parents, and others who are fighting for special education services.

  1. Public Works Contract Negotiations

Hundreds of agencies within the state government enter into many contracts at any given time. It is no surprise that there are many contractual disputes with the state over these thousands of government contracts. If each of these disputes went to court, the state judicial system might come to a screeching halt. The OAH provides a forum for negotiating these contracts and settling disputes through its Public Works Contract Arbitration Program.

Professional License Issues

Many types of professions require a license in California:


  • Doctors
  • Nurses
  • Dentists
  • Chiropractors
  • psychologists

Real estate

  • Architects
  • Real estate brokers
  • Real estate salespersons
  • Real estate appraisers
  • Real estate inspectors
  • Land surveyors
  • Mortgage brokers

Barbering and Cosmetology

  • Barber
  • Cosmetologist
  • Electrologist
  • Esthetician
  • Manicurist


  • Insurance adjusters
  • Third-party administrators
  • Insurance sales licenses (agency, individual, and policy-specific)


  • General engineering
  • General building
  • Residential remodeling
  • Specialty licenses (insulation, hot water, framing, cabinetry, concrete, drywall, electrical, elevator, paving, fencing, fire protection, HVAC, asbestos abatement, landscaping, masonry, painting, pipelines, plumbing, refrigeration, roofing, sanitation, sheet metal, solar, swimming pool, water conditioning, well drilling, welding, etc.)

These are just a few professions that require a person to be licensed by the state. A professional obtains a license by applying to the appropriate licensing board. If the board refuses to issue your license when you are qualified for it, you can appeal the decision to the Office of Administrative Hearings.

Once a person has a professional license, they are subject to ongoing review by their licensing board. The board can discipline a person for failing to meet ongoing education requirements, getting a new criminal conviction, lying on documentation to the board, or other infractions that reflect poorly on that profession.

All professional licensing boards in California (except for the Alcoholic Beverage Control and the State Bar) have delegated their disciplinary hearing authority to the OAH. This delegation means that complaints or investigations are likely to be heard by the OAH (unless you hold a liquor license or a law license). In most cases, the licensing agency retains final decision-making authority, so it is possible to have a disciplinary decision of the OAH overruled by the original licensing entity.

What Happens In Legitimate Cases Involving Professional Licensure

How Does the Office of Administrative Hearings Work?

Professional licensure disputes can be serious issues. Discipline can prevent you from lawfully working in your chosen field, so it is essential to be aware of any problems with your license. However: it is still possible that a notice regarding professional discipline can be a scam.

In a legitimate case, here is what will happen:

  1. You will receive a notice from the Office of Administrative Hearings.
  2. The notice will advise you of the complaint against you (or the professional violation the board is investigating).
  3. The OAH will invite you to respond to the investigation (either in writing or at a scheduled hearing).
  4. After your hearing, the OAH will issue a proposed decision.
  5. The licensing board usually adopts the proposed decision but does have the authority to modify or ignore the proposal entirely.

If you receive any written notice, emails, voicemails, texts, or calls purportedly about a licensing dispute, be sure to check the source of the correspondence. It should match up with an official government website or phone number exchange. You should not discuss the complaint’s substance with your licensing board or the OAH until you have hired an attorney.

The OAH can use anything you say against you in the disciplinary proceedings, so you want to be sure that you have a lawyer on your side before making any statements to the board.

What an Attorney Does to Protect Your Rights During a Professional License Hearing

There are many things a lawyer does to protect your substantive legal rights during disciplinary proceedings. First, the lawyer will determine what violations the OAH is investigating and what evidence it has. Your attorney can present competing evidence, cross-examine witnesses, and take other steps to challenge the board’s evidence.

The problem might not be with the evidence itself but with the procedures used in some cases. The OAH might not have the statutory authority to invoke discipline in your case. It might not have followed due process requirements, or the ALJ might have chosen disciplinary action that is not appropriate to the situation. Your attorney can challenge all of these issues, as well.

A lawyer’s most important task to protect your rights is to form the best case strategy for your particular circumstances. They choose the right strategy based on the type of license you hold, the allegations against you, the available defenses, and the desired outcome.

Most professional license holders do not have experience with disciplinary proceedings. They cannot know how to deal with an investigation or the best strategy. There is simply no substitute for the experience of a skilled attorney in this area.

What Should I Do If I Get a Notice From the Office of Administrative Hearings?

If you receive a written notice or phone call from the OAH, there is a possibility that it can be a scam. Scammers have used the OAH as a front for phishing—a scheme where the scammer tries to steal your own data by getting you to call a fake number or click on a fake link.

These scams often start with a threat. You might face an accusation of a "violation," told you must appear at a hearing, or are threatened with fines if you do not respond. You should never respond to these threats. Instead, contact an administrative attorney as soon as possible, and let them determine if your legal rights are actually in jeopardy.

Do not ignore the matter. Do not respond to a scam, but you must respond to legitimate correspondence from the OAH.

“Red Flags” In Emails Or Phone Calls

It is vital to seek an attorney’s advice because it is never certain whether a suspicious call or email is, in fact, a scam.

Despite this, you can look for certain clues:

  • Check the sender's address on any suspicious email. If it is not an official address, it is likely illegitimate.
  • Look for links in emails that do not lead to official .gov websites. Never click on a link in an email that looks suspicious.
  • Never open an attachment on an email that looks suspicious.
  • Do not call back a number that sends you a suspicious voicemail.
  • The OAH is not likely to communicate via text. Never click on links in texts, and do not call a number that sends a suspicious text.

One of the most dangerous red flags occurs when you have no dealings with the state government. If you have a special education matter pending with the state, you can expect correspondence from the Special Education division. If you negotiate a state contract or manage a contractual dispute, you will likely hear from the Public Works Contract Arbitration program.

If you have never dealt with either of these issues, any email or text from these programs is probably a scam.

The OAH’s general jurisdiction can be more confusing. You may not be aware of a professional investigation or complaint, so the OAH correspondence might be the first indication you have of a pending matter before the Office.

You cannot determine whether a general jurisdiction matter is legitimate from a single phone call or email. Let an attorney investigate the issue to ensure you are not ignoring a legitimate legal dispute.

How Do I Ensure That The Legitimate Office of Administrative Hearings Handles My Case?

The presence of scammers creates another problem with OAH hearings: if you initiate a dispute, how can you be sure that the legitimate OAH hears it? It is also crucial to let an attorney handle the filings and administrative procedures here. An attorney will also protect your substantive legal rights throughout the process.

Without experienced legal representation, the state can ignore your legal rights without repercussions. You can even waste time and money dealing with a scammer who has no association with the state government. Worst of all, you can lose your professional license and cannot work in your field.

Even if you have a pending case with the OAH, you should still be wary of any correspondence you receive. Do not reflexively click a link or call a number back simply because it mentions your OAH matter. Your attorney will handle all correspondence with the OAH.

Sometimes scammers can target victims who have legitimate cases before the OAH because they are more likely to respond to correspondence. This likelihood makes them more likely to give up personal information and become victims of phishing scams.

Once your attorney enters an appearance on your behalf, all legitimate correspondence from the OAH should go through their office. You might receive copies, but you should not receive urgent emails demanding that you click a link right away or urgent voicemails demanding a call back to a suspicious phone number. Reach out to a professional license attorney.

If you need legal assistance with an administrative hearing, contact a skilled attorney right away. A lawyer can ensure that no entity violates your rights throughout your case.

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