In Focus: Administrative Law

Exterior of the Michigan Capitol dome at night. Photo by Sarah Lawrence Brown | State Bar of Michigan

Michigan Bar Journal

The December issue of the Michigan Bar Journal is dedicated to administrative law. More specifically, the focus is on a key component of administrative law in this state: The Michigan Office of Administrative Hearings and Rules, or MOAHR. MOAHR is the centralized panel that holds administrative hearings on behalf of most of the state’s departments and agencies including the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the Unemployment Insurance Agency, and the Michigan Department of Corrections. 

While each of the feature articles in this issue center on MOAHR, the first two are closely aligned to each other as are the second two. In “A Teachable Moment: How the Pandemic Changed the State Administrative Hearing Process,” MOAHR Executive Director Suzanne Sonneborn describes how the shift to remote hearings in response to the COVD-19 pandemic has resulted in some unexpected — but significant — benefits to parties in administrative hearings, spurring the adoption of continued remote hearings going forward, where appropriate. In addition to conducting administrative hearings, MOAHR oversees the promulgation of administrative rules for all state departments and agencies, a critical function that has been particularly important during the pandemic. In her article, “Administrative Rulemaking in Michigan,” Katie Wienczewski, MOAHR’s Administrative Rules Division director, explains the rulemaking process. 

The last two articles in this theme issue honor the passing of two dedicated and pivotal figures in MOAHR’s history. Hon. Carroll Little, who passed in August at age 99, holds the distinction of being Michigan’s longest-serving state employee. He worked for the state for 64 years, starting as a tax collector in 1957 when G. Mennen “Soapy” Williams was governor. Little spent 47 years as an administrative law judge, working right up until his death, and was widely recognized as an expert in unemployment law. Hon. Peter Plummer, who passed away in November 2020, was integral in the creation of the predecessor to MOAHR and Michigan’s first centralized hearing panel, the State Office of Administrative Hearings and Rules. Gov. Jennifer Granholm in 2005 named him as the agency’s executive director, just one of the many highlights of a 45-year career in the law. 

Coincidentally, Plummer himself wrote in the introduction to the Bar  

Journal administrative law theme issue exactly 11 years ago. What he said then remains true today: “Michigan’s citizens are well served by the advocates who represent them and the administrative law judges who find the facts, reach conclusions of law, and author either a proposal for decision or the final decision in each case.” 

The Administrative and Regulatory Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan provides education, information, and analysis on issues of concern through meetings, seminars, programs, and its SBM Connect site. Visit connect.michbar.org/adminlaw/ for more information.