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Probable Cause and Hearings on the Merits

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If an enforcement matter is not settled or closed after an investigation, the Enforcement Division may initiate an administrative hearing process before the full Commission. This process, which is set forth in the City Charter, seeks to determine whether a respondent violated the law and, if so, what penalties will apply.

Enforcement Hearing Guidebook

The Enforcement Division, in consultation with the City Attorney’s office, created the Commission’s Enforcement Hearing Guidebook. This resource provides information about the Ethics Commission’s administrative hearing process for enforcement matters. The purpose of the guidebook is to inform the Commission, respondents, staff, and the public about the rules that govern this process so that the process can be carried out in a manner that is efficient, fair, and transparent. In addition to the guidebook, the Enforcement Division has created three basic checklists that summarize the steps that must be completed at each stage of the hearing process. The guidebook and the three checklists are available below:

Brief Overview of Enforcement Hearing Process

The Director of Enforcement initiates the administrative hearing process 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 may conduct a probable cause conference 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 then issues a recommended probable cause determination based on the parties’ filings and arguments presented at the probable cause conference, if one was held. The Executive Director will recommend a finding of probable cause “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, 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.

Before the hearing takes place, the Commission may need to resolve certain preliminary matters, such as discovery motions, evidentiary issues, and the disqualification of individual commissioners from the hearing. The Commission may appoint an individual, including a member of the Commission, to resolve preliminary matters.

At the hearing, the Enforcement Division and the respondent may present witnesses, documentary evidence, and oral arguments to the Commission. 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. All Commission orders that are issued after a hearing are posted on the Commission’s website.

An enforcement matter may be settled through a stipulated settlement at any time, including during the hearing process.

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

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