How to Represent Yourself Before the OAH

This outline is designed to give you basic information about how to represent yourself before the OAH. It is not legal advice about your particular case. After reading this, you also may want to watch the video on this website called "Representing Yourself at an OAH Hearing." You should be sure to review the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) link on this website, under the “Contents” section and the links under "We Can Help You With . . ." for detailed information about administrative hearings at the OAH, including, but not limited to how to request a postponement, how to subpoena a witness, and how to file requests, motions, and other papers with the OAH. You can also find this information, and more, in the Rules of Procedure for the OAH published at Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR) 28.02.01.

How do I File an Appeal to Challenge a Decision from a State Agency?

Notices from state agencies will usually include instructions on how to file an appeal. The instructions will tell you where to file the appeal, the amount of time you have to file an appeal, and what forms or papers you may have to use. Make sure to follow those instructions. If you do not file an appeal within the timeframe, or you do not use the right forms, you may lose your right to challenge the decision. If you do not understand the instructions, you should call the state agency that issued the notice.

In some cases, you may have a right to challenge a decision from a state agency if the agency should have issued a decision by a certain date but has not done so.

What Are Administrative Decisions Based Upon?

An Administrative Law Judge will make a decision in your case based upon the law and the evidence presented by the parties in the case. You and the other person, or the state agency involved in your case, are the "parties" to the case.

Evidence is (1) sworn testimony presented to the Judge by witnesses, including you, if you testify; and (2) other items, usually documents or photographs, that each party offers as evidence to the Judge. The Judge will decide if the evidence is relevant, reliable, and probative. "Relevant" evidence is evidence that is related to the issues in your case. "Reliable" evidence is evidence that the Judge has found to be authentic. "Probative" evidence is evidence that helps make a fact that is related to the case more or less likely.

If the evidence that is offered is not relevant, reliable and probative, you or the other party may "object" to the evidence. The Judge will rule on the objection and tell you whether the evidence will be accepted.

The law the Judge will use to make a decision can be statutes, regulations, or other published decisions by the courts. The important statutes or regulations related to your case may be named in the agency’s notice or in the notice of hearing you receive from the OAH.

How Do I Choose What Evidence to Present at the Hearing?

There are many different ways to choose what evidence will be important for your case. Consider some of the following suggestions:

  • Look up the laws and regulations related to your case. These may be listed on the agency notice you are challenging or on the hearing notice you receive from the OAH. You can find them on the internet, or in a library, or you can use some of the links on this website under the sections "Quick Links – Code of Maryland Regulations” and “Helpful Links – The People’s Law Library.” Comparing the related laws and regulations to the facts of your case will help you decide what is important for the Judge to hear about in your case.
  • Make a list of important dates related to your case and what happened on those dates. Knowing which dates and events are important to your case will help you decide what the Judge must hear about to understand your case.
  • Identify people who were directly involved in your case. These people should be willing and able to testify to help the Judge understand the important facts. You can ask these people to come to your hearing or you can ask the OAH Clerk's Office to issue a subpoena -- to be mailed to the person's address -- to require that person to testify. See the “We can Help you with . . . Requesting a Subpoena” link on this website for instructions on how and when to request a subpoena.
  • Gather the relevant documents. These are documents that will help you prove your case, such as letters or emails, contracts, notices from the state agency related to your case, bills, cancelled checks, bank or credit card statements, receipts, or photographs. Make three (3) copies of each document you want the Judge to consider as evidence. You should bring the original document and all three copies with you to the hearing.
  • Prepare an "opening statement." This is a short introduction about your case that explains how the problem arose, who will testify about that problem, and why you should win your appeal. Plan on it being just a few minutes long. Remember that this is just a summary of what you want to prove. You will have to support it with evidence − sworn testimony or documents − for the Judge to use in making his or her decision.

What Should I Know About the Administrative Hearing?

  • Date, Time, and Address of the Hearing. The OAH Hearing notice will give you this information. Because the OAH holds hearings in hundreds of different places around Maryland, it is very important to read the notice carefully so you arrive at the right location and at the right time.
  • Be Early. Plan to arrive at the hearing location at least 15 minutes early. Check in with the receptionist at the hearing location to make sure the Judge will know you are present. Tell your witnesses to do the same.
  • Bring Copies of Your Documents. Bring three (3) copies of any document you want to give the Judge as evidence. Copies cannot be made at most hearing locations.
  • Listen to the Judge’s Instructions. The Judge will give instructions at the beginning of the hearing to explain which party has the burden to prove their claim. The party who has the burden to prove their claim usually will go first in each part of the hearing. Make sure to listen closely to the Judge's instructions and ask the Judge questions if there is something you do not understand.

What are the Parts of an Administrative Hearing?

Each party to a hearing has the right to present important information to a Judge during three parts of the hearing: (1) opening statements; (2) presentation of evidence; and (3) closing arguments. Each of these is explained more below.

    Opening Statement - a short summary of what your case is about. Whatever you tell the Judge in your opening statement is not "evidence." You will have to present evidence -- sworn testimony or documents -- to support whatever you say in your opening statement. You can "waive" opening statement -- you do not have to present an opening statement if you do not want to.

    Presentation of Evidence - The party the Judge tells to go first will call all its witnesses first. After these witnesses are presented, the other party calls all of their witnesses. When these witnesses finish, the judge may give the first party the chance to recall some witnesses to rebut evidence presented by the other party. A witness will be questioned during “Direct Examination” and “Cross-Examination,” and may be questioned under “Re-Direct Examination.” Every witness testifies through direct and cross examination, and sometimes redirect examination. See below for some helpful hints on how to handle each of these.

You must present all the evidence you think supports your case. Except in very rare cases, the Judge will not permit you to present evidence after this phase of the case.

  • Direct Examination: A witness usually tells the Judge important information about what happened in a case in response to questions asked by each party or the party’s lawyer during direct examination. If you want the Judge to consider a document, it is best to present that document through a witness who is familiar with the document during direct examination. The other party can object to testimony and documents, but if they do they must explain to the Judge why the testimony or documents should not be considered as evidence. Just disagreeing with what the witness or document says is not a reason for the Judge to exclude the evidence. It is helpful to the Judge if the questions on direct examination are organized by time or by issue. Good questions for a witness may start off with "What happened on [date] regarding...." "What did you see?" "Can you tell the Judge what happened when . . ."
  • Cross Examination: After a party finishes asking his or her witnesses questions on direct examination, the other party has the right to ask that witness questions on cross-examination. When you are cross-examining a witness, you should ask questions, not make statements about your own case. You can also ask the other party’s witness about documents.
  • Redirect Examination: The party who called the witness can follow-up with more questions after cross-examination is finished.
  • Rebuttal: After both parties have presented all their witnesses, the party who bears the burden to prove the claim may ask the Judge if he or she can present additional evidence to support its position. Evidence presented in rebuttal has to be evidence to challenge what the opposing party's witnesses said, and it may not be evidence that the Judge has already heard.

    Closing Argument - At the end of the hearing, each party can present a summary of his or her case. During this summary, you can explain to the Judge why the evidence you presented shows, under the law or regulations, that you should win the case. Make sure to include in your closing argument the remedy you want the Judge to order in his or her decision.

What Happens at the End of the Hearing?

At the end of the hearing, the Judge will explain when the decision will be issued. In some hearings, the Judge may issue the decision immediately. In other hearings, the Judge will issue a written decision at a later date.

The Judge will also explain whether the decision will be a "final" decision or a decision that the Judge "proposes" or "recommends" be issued by the agency. If it is a final decision, the Judge will mail the decision to both parties and the decision will explain how to file an appeal if a party disagrees with it. In certain types of cases requiring a proposed or recommended decision, the Judge will mail a copy of his or her decision to all parties; but, in others the rules require the Judge to mail the decision only to the agency. In this kind of case, the agency will consider the Judge's decision, decide whether to accept the proposed or recommended decision, and the agency will then mail the decision to you. The decision you get will include an explanation of how to file exceptions to it, or how to appeal it, if you disagree with the agency’s ruling.

If you have any questions about the rules governing the type of decision in your case, please ask the Judge before you leave the hearing.