The chief administrative law judge at Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) has joined an elite group as one of just 11 administrative judges nationwide who hold dual specialized certifications in administrative law.
The Honorable Robert S. O’Neal completed the requirements July 12 for certificates in dispute resolution skills, where he obtained training and coursework as a professional mediator, and in administrative law adjudication skills, where he studied administrative law court management. His coursework was at the University of Nevada’s National Judicial College (NJC).
Nationally since 2008 only 36 judges have received the certificate for dispute resolution skills and only 32 have received the certificate in administrative law adjudication.
ABC is reaping the benefits of O’Neal’s training as a skilled mediator. In the past seven years the number of licensee cases settled without administrative hearings has increased from 5% (in 2002) to 60% (in 2012.)
“Citizen licensees are a part of the administrative judicial process,” said O’Neal. “When they [licensees] can help craft their own solution under the Virginia administrative process act, the outcome benefits not only that licensee but other [licensees] in that our agency is able to give more personal service to those who do come to hearings.”
From an administrative standpoint, O’Neal has implemented a more professional court management system. ABC’s hearings and appeals division analyzes all cases that are eligible for settlement offers before the hearing date. “If a licensee is not eligible we contact them for an offer in compromise,” he said. O’Neal’s division also offers alternate dispute resolution options on every eligible violation case.
For franchise rights cases and contested applications O’Neal’s division appoints a judge to act as third party neutral to ensure both parties have equal opportunities to discuss legal options for settlement other than litigation. O’Neal said 85 percent of franchise rights cases are settled without a hearing.
This is good news for everyone, considering some cases can run for days. O’Neal recalled a case in 2006 that required a 7-day hearing with more than 150 exhibits and 1200 pages of transcripts. The typical case takes less than a day.
O’Neal’s NJC training also led him to expanding ABC’s judicial web presence. Various pages on the agency’s web site define key terms, explain the hearings process, list suggested penalties for first offenses and post the upcoming docket. This greater web presence provides more comprehensive resources for licensees.
NJC’s professional certificate in judicial development is an innovative program designed for judges who want to concentrate their studies in a focused academic area. The certification is a hallmark of study that complements existing degrees. Judges who earn these certificates achieve a higher level of judicial expertise, skill and knowledge.
As ABC’s chief administrative law judge since 2001, O’Neal oversees administrative hearings for all administrative infractions and violations committed by ABC licensees, processing applications for ABC licenses opposed by citizens or government entities and providing a neutral forum for resolution of franchise disputes between manufactures and distributors of alcohol products in Virginia. He also oversees the appeals processes and provision of legal support services to the ABC Board.
The Maidens resident also serves as president of the Virginia Association of Administrative Law Judges and Hearing Officers (VAALJHO). He is also a charter mentor for administrative law judges throughout the United States and Canada by providing training, coaching and management advice to state, local, federal and tribal administrative law judges and hearing officers.
He serves on the board of governors of the National Association of Administrative Law Judiciary (NAALJ). A graduate of the National Judicial College at the University of Nevada/Reno, O’Neal holds a master’s degree in administration of justice from Virginia Commonwealth University, a bachelor’s degree summa cum laude in criminal justice from Western Carolina University, and a certificate in regulatory law from the Clearinghouse on Law Enforcement and Regulation (CLEAR) from the University of Missouri School of Law.
O’Neal has 29 years of progressively responsible government service experience in state, local and county government agencies. Before coming to ABC, he served in various positions including Assistant Director of Investigations, Senior Policy Analyst and Court Services Program Manager for the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles; Drug Enforcement Coordinator for the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services; and Investigations Administrator for the Virginia Department of Health Professions. He began his government career as a local, county and campus police officer in the early 1980s.
ABC Law Judge Joins an Elite Group of Eleven