If you are going to Hearing and will be representing yourself, below are a few helpful items which should assist you in understanding what will be happening at the Hearing and what role you will have to play in representing yourself.
The Panel of Commissioners, or the Deputy Attorney General, will explain the order of procedures to all parties. If you are unclear about these procedures, please ask for a more thorough explanation. It is important that you understand how the Hearing will proceed and what your responsibilities are in representing yourself.
The Deputy Attorney General who is present at the Hearing is there for the sole purpose of giving legal advice to the Panel of Commissioners hearing the case. This Deputy does not represent the parties.
The Division of Human Relations staff person assigned to your case is available anytime prior to the Hearing to discuss Hearing procedures with you. Whether you are a Complainant or Respondent, it is in your best interests to set an appointment with this staff person to review the case file, receive a copy of the Human Relations Regulations, and discuss the order of procedure at Hearing. If you are unprepared at the Hearing, you will cause unnecessary delays to yourself and others present at the Hearing.
Prior to the start of the Hearing, the parties should bring up any preliminary matters or motions, which they want the Panel to consider. Such matters might include motions for the sequestration of witnesses, or for the disqualification of a Commissioner for reasons of conflict of interest, or some other matter or notice or jurisdiction.
1. Sequestration of witnesses means that one or both of the parties, want the witnesses kept out of the Hearing until it is time for each witness to testify. Keeping the witnesses sequestered prevents them from collaborating with one another because they have heard the testimony of previous witnesses.
2. Disqualification of a Commissioner can be requested when a Party feels that a Panel member may have a conflict of interest in hearing the case -- for example, a Panel member may live in the apartment complex in question or be closely associated with one of the Parties or their attorneys.
3. A Party may raise a question of notice or jurisdiction if they feel they did not receive proper notice of the complaint, the Fact-Finding Conference, or the Hearing. Questions of jurisdiction concerning the complaint itself or case procedures can also be raised. Both Parties should read very carefully through the Human Relations Regulations, which tell exactly how a case should be processed.
MATTERS AT HEARING
It is the responsibility of the parties to make sure that they have presented a complete record of the case to the Panel of Commissioners. This means that each side and its witnesses must give logical and detailed testimony, which aims at clarifying the issues of the complaint.
Any documents (lease applications, receipts, correspondence, court notices, advertisements) which show the Panel what happened in this case, or help to set for the position of the Complainant and the Respondent, should be submitted as "Exhibits" at the Hearing. If you are unclear how to do this, ask the Panel for instructions.
At any time during the Hearing any Party may object to a question, or a line of questioning, put to it or one of its witnesses. An objection can also be made after the witness has already spoken.
When an objection is made, the witness should not say anything further until the Panel decides whether to sustain or overrule the objection. The Party objecting must state the reasons for the objection -- reasons such as inadmissibility, irrelevance, hearsay, improper leading question during examination, and so forth. The other Party is given the opportunity to explain why the question should be allowed. The question may also be voluntarily withdrawn.
Rules of Evidence
The formal rules of evidence, which are followed in a court of law, are not strictly followed at a Hearing. The Panel has the discretion to allow any testimony or evidence into the record, even though it may have been objected to. If an objection is made and sustained, however, the Panel cannot consider the evidence or testimony which was objected to, when it makes its decision about the case. If an objection is overruled, the Panel can consider what was objected to and decide what weight and credibility to give it.
The Complainant has the right to ask the Commission to award damages in the event that the Commission decision is in his/her favor. Damages can be requested for out- of-pocket expenses directly related to the discriminatory treatment, emotional distress and humiliation suffered, and other nominal damages. The Commission uses its discretion in awarding damages.
Appeal on the Record
The decision made by the Commission in this case may be appealed to the Superior Court. The Court will not conduct a new Hearing; rather, it will review the record for mistakes and incorrect rulings, which might have been made by the Panel of Commissioners when they heard the case.
SUMMARY OF PROCEDURES AT HEARING
The Complainant makes the first opening statement and is followed by the Respondent. An opening statement, which is a general statement of what you intend to prove, is not required but is very helpful in letting the Panel know generally what you want to show through your testimony and that of your witnesses.
Presenting Your Case
An oath will be administered to everyone who will be testifying. If you are representing yourself, you will need to present your own testimony and then to call and question whatever witnesses you have brought to help prove your case.
Each side has the right to cross-examine the witnesses of the other side. This means that when you finish testifying on your own behalf you will be questioned by the other side or their attorney. Your witnesses will also be cross-examined after you have finished questioning them directly. When the other side is presenting its case, you have the right to cross-examine each of their witnesses. You may ask leading questions when cross-examining.
You have a right to use one of the opposing Party's witnesses as your own. If you fail to call an opposing witness because you see that witness present in the Hearing room and the other side also does not call that witness, then you have lost your right to ask any questions of that person.
You may object to any evidence, witness or testimony given by the other side. You can also object to questions put to you and your witnesses. If you object you should state clearly that you object so that the Panel hearing the case can determine the basis for your objection and rule whether to admit or exclude what your find objectionable.
A closing statement is your wrap up of your case. The Complainant should summarize what has been shown through testimony, evidence and witness. The Respondent will be given the same opportunity, after which the Complainant will be allowed to try to rebut anything, which the Respondent has said during its closing statement.