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Office of Fair Hearings

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the basics I need to know for my hearing?

The Office of Fair Hearings cannot give anyone legal advice.

When you send something to the Office of Fair Hearings, you must also send a copy of it to the Department program person you are working with.  A “Certificate of Service” is a statement verifying that you have sent a copy to the other side.

Neither party may speak directly with the Hearing Officer unless the other party is included in the same conversation. One-sided communication with the Hearing Officer is inappropriate because it is unfair to the other party.

Have witnesses available for your hearing.  People who actually did/said important things are the people you need to have testify at the hearing.  First-hand evidence is always much better than any information found on the internet.

Do not miss deadlines.  Missed deadlines almost always work against you.  The easiest way to make sure you meet deadlines is to read your mail – otherwise you will not know what is happening in your case.

You have the right to see all documents the other side presents at the hearing.  If you want to see the documents before the hearing, all you have to do is ask the other party.  If the other party refuses, you may send a written request to the Office of Fair Hearings.

Do I need to hire a lawyer?

You can never be required to hire a lawyer, and most people who have hearings with the DPHHS Office of Fair Hearings do not have lawyers. 

There is no right to have a lawyer appointed for you in any of the cases heard by the Office of Fair Hearings. 

Can I have a non-lawyer (my friend/neighbor/spouse) help me with my hearing?

Yes.  You can have anyone you choose help you with your hearing.  Helping a person through a fair hearing process is legal.  Practicing law without a license is not legal.

What is and is not the “practice of law” can be a complex question, so if you are unsure about what your non-lawyer assistant may and may not do in your case, you may call the Office of Fair Hearings for clarification about what is permitted and what is not.

Generally speaking, if you are paying money for legal advice and assistance, that person should have a license to practice law.

Can I have more time to get ready for my hearing?

Yes.  Typically, each party is allowed  1 extension for more time upon written request.

Because federal and state laws require all cases to be finalized in 60-90 days, there is not much time for delay, and any delay must be for a good reason.

A  death in the family the same week of your hearing is a good reason for delay.  An appointment for a haircut is not a good reason for delay.

Can I drop my case?

Yes.  Mail or fax a signed statement to the Office of Fair Hearings simply stating that you wish to withdraw your request for hearing.  You do not have to give a reason for dropping your case.

How can I subpoena witnesses for my case?

Send a request for subpoena, along with the name and address of the witness you wish to subpoena, to: DPHHS Office of Fair Hearings, PO Box 202953, Helena, MT  59620-2953. 

We will sign the subpoena, then send it to you for “service” –which means for you to deliver it to the person you wish to have appear and give testimony in your case.

What is a Motion?

A “Motion” is a formal request asking the Hearing Officer to take some type of official action.

Examples:

A “Motion for Continuance” is a formal request to change the date of the hearing to a later date. 

A “Motion to Dismiss” is a formal request to deny the right to a hearing. 

Note:  You cannot request to “Dismiss” a case just because the other side is wrong.  There must be some legal reason why there should not even be a hearing (for example, because the dispute is already settled, or the other party missed a critical deadline)

What is a Brief?

A “Brief” is a written explanation of all the reasons why your Motion (or request) should be granted (or why the other party’s Motion or request should be denied).

What is an affidavit? 

An “Affidavit” is a sworn, notarized statement.

Notarizing a document does not make the statements true or accurate.  It merely verifies the identity of the person who signed the statement.

A notarized Affidavit is hearsay unless the person who signed it is present to testify at the hearing. A notarized Affidavit may be perjury if the statements in the Affidavit are false.

What is hearsay?

Hearsay is not merely a rumor, or speculation.  It is anything written or said by a person who is not present at the hearing to explain their statement. 

In general, you need the people with first-hand information to be present and testify in person (or by telephone) at your hearing.

How can I appeal a decision I disagree with?

The Notice at the bottom of your Order shows the appeal deadline that applies to your case, and also includes the mailing address to which you must send your Notice of Appeal.

Most appeals must be filed within 15 days of the date of the Order you are appealing.  Some cases allow 30 days to appeal.  Be sure to read the Notice at the bottom of the decision you wish to appeal.

Can I use forms I found in the internet? 

If the Hearing Officer determines that the form you file does not comply with Montana law, it will be disregarded.

Note: paying for legal forms off the internet for use in a Fair Hearing is a waste of money.  You may send us a written statement in any format as long as it explains what you are asking for, and why.

A clear statement written on a sheet of notebook paper is much better than an internet form that may not apply to your particular case. 

You know your own situation, and as long as you can write it out well enough for us to understand what you are trying to say, that is far more effective than some pre-drafted form that just looks “legal,” but really doesn’t explain your unique situation.

What help can I get from the Office of Fair Hearings?

WE CAN:

  • Answer general questions about how the Office of Fair Hearings works
  • Answer general questions about deadlines
  • Provide you with contact information for legal service programs
  • Give you general information about rules, terminology, procedures, and standard legal practices
  • Give you definitions for legal terminology and procedural terminology
  • Give you some citations to statutes, regulations and rules (as long as it does not constitute legal research)
  • Give you public information contained in other case files

WE CANNOT:

  • Let you speak to the Hearing Officer without the other party participating in the communication
  • Refer you to specific lawyers, contact lawyers or programs on your behalf, or give answers that involve legal advice
  • Advise you as to how laws and rules will be applied in your case
  • Give you legal interpretations
  • Give you procedural advice
  • Provide you with research on statues, regulations, and rules
  • Give you confidential information contained in other case files
  • Deny access, discourage access, or encourage litigation
  • Correct documents for you or tell if you corrections should be made
Page last updated 07/30/2013