Following in the footsteps of the towns of Huntington, Babylon and East Hampton, the Town of Oyster Bay voted on March 7, 2023, to create a Bureau of Administrative Adjudication pursuant to Article 14-BB of the General Municipal Law (“GML”). The bureau is an administrative tribunal that will process quality of life violations of the Town Code. Under the GML, administrative tribunals can adjudicate “all code and ordinance violations regarding conditions which constitute a threat or danger to the public health, safety or welfare.”
Quality of life violations in the Town of Oyster Bay are currently processed in the District Court, which is located in the Town of Hempstead. However, following the Town Board’s recent adoption of Local Law No. 2 of 2023 and Local Law No. 3 of 2023, the Town Attorney will now pursue enforcement of these violations in the soon-to-be-created Bureau of Administrative Adjudication. Once the bureau is up and running, code enforcers will continue to issue summons and violations, but they will be returnable before the administrative tribunal that will be located within the Town of Oyster Bay.
The bureau will be headed by a director, who shall be appointed by the Town Supervisor, with the advice and consent of the Town Board. The director is empowered by the law to appoint at least three administrative law judges who can adjudicate violations that come before the bureau and impose monetary civil penalties only. The bureau cannot handle misdemeanors or other criminal cases, which will continue to be processed in the District Court.
Unlike in criminal trials where prosecutors must prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the burden of proof in an administrative proceeding is the lower “preponderance of the evidence” standard, which will make it easier for the prosecuting attorney to obtain a conviction at the bureau. Defendants brought before the bureau are also not entitled to the same discovery rights that are afforded in District Court. When the Town first sought to create an administrative tribunal in 2021, critics of the proposal argued that it was a misguided attempt to dilute the due process and discovery rights afforded by the State’s criminal justice system.
Members of the Town Board believe that creating the bureau and having it operate out of Town Hall will make it more convenient for residents charged with violations. They also anticipate increased compliance because violators may be able to remedy violations with a visit to the building and planning departments, which are both located within the Town Hall complex. Moreover, it will be more efficient for the Town because its attorneys and code enforcement officers will no longer have to travel with their files to and from District Court in Hempstead.
Although the legislation was adopted to create the bureau, a Director has not yet been appointed and no date has been set for the new Bureau of Administrative Adjudication to start hearing cases.