Backlogs that could stretch for years for administrative hearings in Illinois are a hard problem to solve. And it could be quite a while before an executive order issued earlier by Gov. Bruce Rauner has an impact - if, indeed, it ever does - according to a lawyer with years of experience practicing administrative law in Illinois.
Rauner issued an executive order in late April creating a Bureau of Administrative Hearings,and set up a pilot program with a goal of centralizing and consolidating administrative hearings. But the backlogs are so long and the causes so complex that more is likely needed, said Stephen E. Balogh, a partner at Williams McCarthy LLP in Rockford.
“It sounds nice,” Balogh said. “But I have to believe it’s going to be some time before it has any impact, if at all.”
The executive order directs the new bureau to offer training for administrative law judges, promote the sharing of resources between agencies, develop more uniform procedures and work toward a uniform filing and case management system.
The governor’s office particularly highlighted the backlog at the Illinois Human Rights Commission, which handles cases involving employment discrimination, and has more than 1,000 cases awaiting action. Balogh said he’s seen cases before the commission drag on for long periods of time.
“It could be years -not months, but years - before you have a hearing,” he said.
If one party files a motion, such as a motion to dismiss, that, too, could take years, depending on a number of factors.
“In a case where a complainant was let go and can't find other employment, it could be very economically distressing,” Balogh said.
Balogh said budgetary constraints on agencies that hold administrative hearings can contribute to the problem. The agencies don’t have enough investigators or administrative law judges. And in the latter case, the salaries offered often aren’t competitive.
A lack of uniformity, which Rauner’s order seeks to address, is part of the problem, Balogh said. While the hearings are all conducted by administrative law judges, and follow the Illinois Administrative Code and the Code of Civil Procedure, there are vast differences between other parts of the process.
“Agencies have the statutory ability to create their own internal procedures, which leads to completely different rules and regulations,” he said.
As an example, he noted that while the Human Rights Commission and the Illinois Labor Relations Board both deal with employment issues, they handle cases and investigations in far different manners.
“How you get to trial is completely different,” he said.
But Balogh said he isn’t sure if having a uniform process will solve the problem in the near term, because of how long the backlogs and the different procedures have existed.
“I think the problem would be that you'd have to undo a long history of non-unity,” he said. “I'm not sure the solution would be less painful or less expensive than what we have now.”