Probable Cause and Hearings on the Merits

If an enforcement matter is not settled or dismissed after an investigation, Commission staff may pursue the matter ultimately leading to a hearing on the merits before the full Commission.

The Enforcement Director initiates probable cause proceedings by serving a Probable Cause Report on each respondent and on the Executive Director. Each respondent may respond in writing, after which the Enforcement Division may file additional evidence or argument to rebut any such response. The Executive Director issues a recommended probable cause determination, based either on the parties’ filings or after having conducted a probable cause conference, whether on her own initiative or at the request of any party.

The respondent has the right to be present and represented by counsel at the probable cause conference, and may introduce evidence or call witnesses. The probable cause conference is closed to the public, unless the respondent requests that it be public.

The Executive Director may recommend a finding of probable cause to believe a violation occurred “if the evidence is sufficient to lead a person of ordinary caution and prudence to believe or entertain a strong suspicion that a respondent committed or caused a violation.” Enforcement Regulation Sec. 7(D)(1).

If the Ethics Commission ratifies the Executive Director’s finding that probable cause exists, the Commission must publish the Finding of Probable Cause on its website as a public document.

Following the issuance of a Finding of Probable Cause by the Executive Director, the Commission will hold a hearing on the merits to determine if the respondent has committed a violation of law. The respondent has the right to be present and represented by counsel at the hearing, which is open to the public.

Both the Executive Director and the respondent are entitled to pre-trial discovery under the California Administrative Procedure Act. The Enforcement Division and the respondent may present witnesses, other evidence and oral arguments to the Commission at the hearing. After the hearing, the Commission will vote to decide if a violation has occurred. In order to impose any penalty on a respondent, three Commissioners must vote in favor of finding a violation has occurred. Commission orders after a hearing on the merits are posted on the Commission’s website.

An enforcement matter may be settled through a Stipulation, Decision and Order approved by the Commission at any time.

Details concerning probable cause proceedings and hearings on the merits are set forth in the Ethics Commission’s Enforcement Regulations.

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