Cummings: Administrative Law Functions Should be Separate from Coast Guard

Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD), Chairman of Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, convened the Subcommittee to examine the Coast Guard's administrative law system. At the conclusion of the hearing, he released the following statement: "Today, the Subcommittee received testimony regarding the Coast Guard's administrative law system from two former Administrative Law Judges (ALJ) suggesting that during their tenure, they worked in an atmosphere that did not support their exercise of judicial independence in the consideration of cases.

"Additionally, serious allegations were raised that, if true, would imply that patently improper actions may have been committed to direct an ALJ to decide matters in the Coast Guard's favor. "Such testimony is obviously deeply disturbing and, if true, would suggest that the scales of the Coast Guard's administrative law system are not evenly balanced." The Subcommittee received testimony from Mr. Peter A. Fitzpatrick, Ms. Rosemary Denson, and Ms. Jeffie Massey, each of whom is a former Coast Guard Administrative Law Judge (ALJ); Mr. Abraham Dash, a Professor Emeritus of Law at the University of Maryland School of Law; Mr. William Hewig, an attorney who represents mariners before the Coast Guard's administrative law system; and Rear Admiral Brian Salerno and Captain Thomas Sparks, two senior officers of the United States Coast Guard. "Unfortunately, the Subcommittee was unable to receive testimony from the personnel in the Coast Guard administrative law system who could most directly and authoritatively respond to the allegations that were raised. The Subcommittee hopes to receive such testimony as soon as possible.

"However, while discussion of the allegations raised today has not been concluded, any administrative law system must not only ensure that there is no impropriety in the conduct of administrative proceedings but that there is not even the appearance of unfairness in the system. "Coast Guard officers investigate accusations and bring cases against mariners - and even handle appeals of ALJ decisions raised to the Commandant. I believe that the best way to ensure that the administrative law system that considers whether to suspend or revoke a mariner's credential is truly balanced is to separate that system from the Coast Guard. "I look forward to working with the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, Congressman Steven LaTourette (R-OH), to examine the best way that the separation of this system from the Coast Guard can be achieved."

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