Audit of DOAH Adjudication Timeliness

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted an audit of the Department of Administrative Hearings’ (DOAH) efforts to ensure timely adjudication of cases. The first objective of the audit was to determine if the Department used the nationally recognized performance measures of clearance rate and time to disposition to evaluate the flow of cases requiring disposition in order to determine if it had a backlog. The audit also examined whether the Department could identify how long a case took to move through court and analyzed the Department’s performance using the two metrics mentioned above. Finally, the audit sought to determine whether DOAH’s scheduling matrix effectively served operational needs by allotting sufficient court rooms and time for cases.

DOAH conducts administrative hearings for alleged violations of the Municipal Code of Chicago (MCC), the Chicago Park District Code, and the Chicago Transit Authority Code. It handles approximately 545,000 cases per year on matters ranging from building code violations to overdue water bills and employs 42 staff and roughly 80 independently contracted Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) to hear cases. DOAH must coordinate closely with the various City departments that issue tickets in order to effectively manage its caseload and allocate its resources. It uses a scheduling matrix to assign cases by ticketing department and case type to hearing rooms in order to regulate the number of cases scheduled to be heard on a given day and time.

OIG found that DOAH did not measure or set standards for clearance rates or time to disposition. As a result, it was unaware of caseload backlog and case length increases for certain case types identified by OIG analysis. Clearance rate and time to disposition are two nationally recognized performance measures for all court levels, including municipal courts, to use to improve their performance. Clearance rate is the ratio of cases closed to cases opened in a given reporting period. A clearance rate under 100% means that a case backlog will grow because more cases are opened than closed. Time to disposition measures the number of days it took to close a case.

OIG’s analysis found that DOAH’s overall clearance rate for all cases between 2012 and 2014 was 99.3%. However, we also identified some case types with clearance rates substantially lower than the Department’s overall rate, including Building Code Target cases that involve life and safety violations. Such clearance rates lead to growing backlogs that may ultimately create a strain on DOAH resources and adversely impact the Department’s administration of this important public service. In addition, we found that some case types had significant changes in time to disposition between quarters, revealing occasional spikes in case length. Based on these findings, we determined that the scheduling matrix, while regularly updated, could better meet the Department’s operational needs if DOAH incorporated additional information learned from ongoing monitoring of these performance measures.

OIG concluded that DOAH’s lack of performance monitoring impeded the Department’s ability to identify potentially problematic backlogs and unusually long cases. OIG recommends that the Department use these measures, and other similar measures as appropriate, to evaluate its own performance on an ongoing basis. When management identifies changing trends, it should work with departments that issue the tickets to identify causes and, if necessary, create a plan to address them. OIG conducted our analysis using data readily available in DOAH’s AHMS database. We believe that the small cost to DOAH of creating similar reports would be significantly outweighed by the benefit of information provided.

In response to our audit findings and recommendations, the Department stated that it will adopt clearance rate and time to disposition standards and monitor its performance relative to those standards through ongoing, quarterly reporting. The Department stated that, based on these reports, it will take appropriate remedial actions to promote the timely adjudication of its cases.