Washington professionals and businesses need stronger protections

Washington's laws allow very loose standards of evidence in agency investigations and hearings against small business owners and professional license holders. The licensee will face the testimony of the employees of the state agency that suspended or revoked the license in any hearing before the Washington State Office of Administrative Hearings. Unfortunately, their testimony will carry greater weight than any friends or employees the licensee might bring to the hearing, because in most cases the judge is required to rely on the agency's expertise and specialized knowledge. 

The state agency is not required to protect small business owners and professional license holders from an inaccurate or malicious complaint. If state employees failed to maintain an accurate record, or fail to provide the hearing officer with an accurate record before the hearing, then a small business owner might lose his or her business without a fair hearing. Appeal of inadequate record can also be difficult, once an administrative proceeding is finished.  Many people who thought they had a strong case lost their license because the state employees' testimony and the state agency's record was given more weight than the business owner's witnesses in the hearing, even when the state's records were incomplete or contained mistakes. 

The agency bureaucracy is not set up to protect business owners from careless state employees and due process protections are limited in administrative proceedings. In some state agencies, the agency provides only a list of witnesses against the small business owner 14 days before the hearing. This allows the business owner very little time to prepare a defense for the hearing. This lack of opportunity to defend oneself is completely different than the standards used in normal litigation in the court system.

Washington Business Advocates promotes increased evidentiary standards and expanded discovery during the pre-hearing phase of an investigation because Washington's small business owners and professional license holders stand to lose everything in a hearing. Their business, livelihood, and ability to practice in their chosen profession are all at risk. Washington state can't afford to lose conscientious business owners and professionals.