Despite what you’ve seen in courtroom dramas on television, hearings at administrative agencies in Connecticut are often neither dramatic nor formal. That is not to say that hearings at DDS are informal, but merely that the strict adherence to court rules of procedure and evidence do not apply. What does this mean from a strategic perspective? Here are three considerations that are important in adjusting your DDS hearing strategy in relation to the “relaxed” rules of procedure in DDS hearings:
- Prepare Accordingly! Do not be caught off-guard when a witness begins talking about what another person (whether that third person is to be a witness or not) said to them at some point in time. This is bound to happen and DDS relies on this in building their case. Prepare your case so that you know (to the best of your knowledge) who said what, to whom and when. Know what statements are good for your theory of your case and not. Then you will be in a better position to draw the hearing officer’s attention to why a particular witness (or third party) is more or less credible, as your case requires.
- Know the Limit (and if you don’t know, test it). Just because the rules of evidence do not strictly apply strictly does not give either the attorney for DDS or the Respondent carte blanche to introduce evidence far afield of the issues to be decided or so untrustworthy as to be of minimal assistance to the fact-finder. Have a sense of the purpose of the hearing, the issues to be decided, what your case requires you to prove (or disprove) and how you plan to do that is paramount. Then you can be on the lookout for evidence adverse to your case that seems to stretch the bounds of reliability or relevance and make your objection to the hearing officer. Win or lose, you may want the hearing officer to know at that point in time your feelings on the witness’s credibility of the evidence’s reliability on an important piece of evidence at the very time it is being presented.
- React In the hearings I have litigated at DDS, there are always pieces of unexpected information and evidence presented. As neither party is omnicient, there are obvious limitations on what either side can know about what the other side will say, do or present through preparation. Witnesses who testify at a hearing about people and events that they have not thought about in months tend to forget, “mis-remember”, change or modify their statements, or in the very rare instance, outright lie. If you prepared accordingly and can reasonably anticipate what each witness is likely to say, the when things go awry you should be ready to react. My react, I mean that you should be prepared to make quick decisions whether those unexpected pieces of evidence are beneficial to your case or harmful and, correspondingly, whether to object or use them for fodder in your closing statement or examination of other witnesses.