Hearing Officer Conferences
The Fifteenth Judicial District uses a Hearing Officer system to expedite matters in Family Court and to expedite ancillary matters in divorce cases that do not involve minor children. Acts 2003, No. 964, amended and reenacted R.S. 46:236.5(C), and the Local Court Rules of this District provide an expedited hearing officer process for not only the establishment of paternity and establishment or enforcement of support, but also for "other related family and domestic matters in district court". Domestic and family matters "shall include" divorce and all issues ancillary to a divorce proceeding; all child related issues such as paternity, filiation, custody, visitation, and support in non-marital cases; all protective orders filed in accordance with Title 46 and the Children's Code and all injunctions filed in accordance with Title 9 and the Code of Civil Procedure. The statute permits a hearing officer to act as a finder of fact and to make written recommendations to the court concerning any domestic and family matters "as set forth by local court rules" including but not limited to: establishment and modification of child and spousal support, child custody and visitation; method of collection of child and spousal support; enforcement of child and spousal support and enforcement of child custody and visitation; contested and uncontested paternity cases; default orders or rules to show cause, if the absent parent does not respond to notice; punishment by the court for constructive contempt of an order of the court or hearing officer; confirmation of domestic and family default judgments, provided that no judgment shall be effective until signed by a district judge; granting of uncontested divorces and approved domestic and family consent judgments provided that no judgments shall be effective until signed by a district judge; recommendations regarding the resolution of disputes concerning discovery or issuance of subpoenas; referral of parties to mediation, medical and psychological evaluation, drug testing and regarding the referral of parties to counseling and substance abuse treatment; making recommendations on all protective orders filed under Title 46, the Children's Code, and all injunctions filed in accordance with R.S. 9:361, 371, 372 and C.C.P. Art. 3601, et seq.
Hearing Officer Conferences are scheduled when a rule to show cause is filed seeking the incidental relief set forth above. The Order setting the rule shall also schedule the Hearing Officer Conference.
In order for the Hearing Officer Process to work appropriately, it is required that parties submit certain information in advance to the Hearing Officer and to the opposing party or his counsel. At the time the Hearing Officer Conference is scheduled, the parties will receive a Hearing Officer Conference and Information Order which orders the parties to submit or exchange the required information. If a party fails to produce the required items, the Hearing Officer, in order to do substantial justice, may recommend that the party failing to produce the financial information be found in contempt of court with sanctions to be imposed, and/or may recommend that the matter be dismissed without prejudice and/or may recommend that good cause exists to modify the retroactivity of the award, and/or may make temporary recommendations based upon the limited information provided. If the Hearing Officer is unable to make a recommendation based upon the information provided, the Court may set a limited hearing for purposes of fixing temporary child support or spousal support. The temporary order shall be without prejudice and shall not affect claims of retroactivity except for good cause shown.
A copy of any written recommendation rendered by the Hearing Officer shall be provided to the parties and their counsel at the time of the Hearing Officer's ruling, if present. The recommendation(s) of the Hearing Officer shall be filed into the record. If both parties agree to the Hearing Officer's recommendation on the day of the Hearing Officer Conference, then the Hearing Officer's recommendation shall become a final order after signature by the Judge. Both parties must sign a waiver to the objection period.
The statute also provides that any party who disagrees with a recommendation of the hearing officer may file a written objection to the findings of fact or law of the hearing officer within the time and manner established by "court rule". See Rule 35.5 of Title IV of the Rules for District Courts which requires that a written objection be filed within five (5) days, exclusive of holidays.
If a written objection to the hearing officer recommendation is timely filed by either party, then the Hearing Officer Recommendation shall be forwarded to the District Judge who may accept, reject, or modify it in whole or in part as a temporary order after the objection period has expired until a contradictory hearing can be had. Any such temporary order signed by the District Judge shall be considered interlocutory in nature.
Upon timely written objection filed by either party, the matter shall proceed to the scheduled contradictory hearing (or a contradictory hearing shall then be scheduled if not previously fixed) where the Judge shall hear the matter de novo. See Page 27 of Appendix 32.0B of Title IV of the Rules for District Courts.
To preserve the right of de novo review, in the event of an objection to the Hearing Officer's recommendations, there shall be no discussion regarding the merits of the case by the Hearing Officer with the District Judge assigned thereto.
If no written objection is filed with the Clerk of Court within the time and manner established, the recommendation shall become a final judgment of the Court and shall be signed by a District Judge as a final judgment. The judgment, after signature by a District Judge shall be served upon the parties in accordance with law.
Disclaimer: The above summary is not meant to be a comprehensive recitation of the powers and duties of Hearing Officers as provided by statute and Local Court Rules. Parties and attorneys should consult the statutes and Local Court Rules directly to determine their application to their specific case.