State Office of Administrative Hearings

What is SOAH?

The State Office of Administrative hearings (SOAH) has functioned like a court system for cases brought against state agencies since 1991.

Now, SOAH plays a critical role in approval of garbage dumps in Texas. They’re also responsible for enforcing punishment handed down by the TCEQ against violators of Texas environmental laws.  SOAH’s site states the office “continues to serve as an independent, neutral forum for the State of Texas, providing a fair and efficient hearings process and the opportunity for alternative dispute resolution.”

SOAH’s original purpose was to provide an administrative law judge (ALJ), also known as a hearing officer, for agencies who didn’t have one solely dedicated to matters related to contested cases before state agencies. Other agencies that are not required by the statute to use SOAH have contracted to have SOAH’s ALJs conduct their hearings. Since its creation SOAH has gained additional jurisdiction to conduct hearings for other agencies.

SOAH's Role

The Administrative Law Handbook states the mission of SOAH “is to ensure that contested case hearings are conducted fairly, objectively, promptly and efficiently, and that they result in quality and timely decisions.” According SOAH’s site, “On average, SOAH hears cases for over 50 state agencies and conducts approximately 30,000 hearings per year.” Notably, administrative law judges make the decisions in cases brought before the office.

If the TCEQ granted a preliminary permit in say, a garbage dump fight, citizens wishing to fight the permit issuance would go to SOAH for a contested case hearing.

The role of the State Office of Administrative Hearings is crucial to the ongoing fight against the proposed garbage dumps in Laredo and in Caldwell County.

In Caldwell County, opponents of the planned 130 Environmental Park continue their legal battle to overturn the decisions of SOAH and the TCEQ, claiming critical mistakes were made. SOAH is accused of ignoring evidence engineers hired by Green Group even destroyed records to hide the truth.

Read the 550 page appeal yourself.

SOAH Judges

Dolcefino Consulting’s investigation has raised some questions about the impartiality of SOAH and its administrative law judges.

Twelve of the administrative law judges that are currently working for SOAH actually worked for TCEQ first. We’re showing you the dirt.

Kerrie Qualtrough

Date Licensed: November 2, 1990

  • 09/01/1990 – 07/31/1992
    Briefing Attorney for First Court of Appeals
  • 08/10/1991 – 07/31/1992
    Assistant County Attorney, Harris County Attorney’s Office
  • 08/10/1992 – 05/31/1996
    Texas Natrual Resouce Conservation Commission
    • Represented the agency directed in a contested case hearing and enforcement matters. Her areas of expertise were administrative and environmental law, water, and waste.

163 TCEQ cases between Qualtrough and Bell.

Lobbying History:

Qualtrough also worked as a lobbyist for many years. Peek into her activity while at Potts & Reilly, LLP: 

  • Northeast Texas Municipal Water District
    • Less than $10,000
  • Brown & Potts, LLP
    • Less than $10,000
  • East Cedar Creek Fresh Water Supply
    • Less than $10,000
  • City of Jacksonville
    • $25,000 – $49,999.99
  • Sierra Blanca Community Development Corporation
    • Less than $1,000
  • Brown & Potts, LLP
    • Less than $10,000
  • First River Place Reserve
    • Less than $10,000
  • Northeast Texas Municipal Water District
    • Less than $10,000
  • City of Stephenville
    • $10,000 – $24,999.99
  • City of Jacksonville
    • $25,000 – $49,999.99
  • Merco Joint Venture
    • $50,000 – $99,999.99
  • Sierra Blanca Community Development Corporation
    • Less than $1,000
  • Brown & Potts, LLP
    • Less than $10,000
  • City of Corpus Christi
    • Less than $10,000
  • First River Place Reserve, Ltd
    • Less than $10,000
  • Kenneth D. Reynolds
    • Less than $10,000
  • Merco Joint Venture
    • Less than $10,000
  • Northeast Texas Municipal Water District
    • Less than $10,000
  • City of Jacksonville
    • $10,000 – $24,999.99
  • City of Stephenville
    • $10,000 – $24,999.99*

      *Previously amended from “Less than $10,000”

In 1992 Merco’s contract to dump New York’s waste “biosolids” in Sierra Blanca, Texas began.

Merco bought the land for $4.5M, and paid a $20,000 fee to a title company owned by the county judge, Bill Love. Love operated the only title company in town. Love decides not to run for county judge again after this. He had a weekly newspaper, the Southwestern Sun News, which he used to promote Merco.

Bell would also form the Sierra Blanca Community Development Corporation in 1996 as this was all happening as a way for Merco to make payments to a local community development organization to attempt to buy some good will. Love said that there just hadn’t been a reason prior to ’96 to form such a non-profit.

According to the news article, “Merco first hired Mr. Fore, a former Texas Water Commission official. He suggested that Merco hire Susan E. Potts, a savvy Austin lawyer, who in turn brought in Cliff Johnson, a former Water Commission board member and now an aide to Gov. George W. Bush Jr.”

The Texas Water Commission would turn into the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission. The TNRCC would eventually become the TCEQ, where Qualtrough went to work after Qualtrough was lobbying for Merco and Sierra Blanca Community Development Corp right as Merco would have been renewing their contract with Sierra Blanca to dump the “biosolids” (treated waste sludge) in Sierra Blanca (renewed 1998). Merco supposedly has ties to the Lucchese crime family in NYC.

In 1996 Love forms Sierra Blanca Community Development Corp, which takes donations from Merco. Qualtrough was a lobbyist for both Sierra Blanca Community Development Corp and for Merco in 1997 and 1998.

Noteworthy Cases:

Learn more about Qualtrough’s ruling history through other noteworthy cases she’s been involved in:

  • Unknown case type or reason
  • Remanded to the TCEQ ED per an agreed order
  • MSW Incinderator contested case hearing
  • The contestants withdrew their protest
  • Remanded
  • Waste management service facility enforcement action
  • Remanded to ED pursuant to settlement 

(dba Fuel Center of Legacy)

  • Underground storage tank enforcement action
  • Remanded for settlement agreement

Stephanie Frazee

Date Licensed: November 2, 2007

  • 09/01/2008 – 03/26/2014
    TCEQ– Team Lead and Staff Attorney

Team Lead for Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEP)

Program where if you get in trouble for breaking TCEQ rules, you can do a community project or a clean up of an environmental issue to forgo the fine.

 

  • 08/13/2007 – 08/15/2008
    Law Clerk for Federal Magistrate Tu M. Pham in Memphis, TN

A Former Flame: Frazee and the TCEQ

Take a look at the outcomes from hearings involving Frazee and her former employer, the TCEQ.

  • SOAH Denies Permit (which the TCEQ posted for N&C): 1
  • SOAH Agrees with TCEQ misc: 4
  • TCEQ & Respondent Settle: 29
  • TCEQ Receives Default: 3
  • TCEQ Non-Suit: 1
  • Protestants Settle/Withdraw: 9
  • Pending Cases: 2
  • Applicant Withdraws Application: 2

51 Cases

  • 2 Cases ongoing
  • 3 Cases dismissed or withdrawn before a setting
  • 9 Cases where the contesting parties withdrew
  • 1 Non-suited by the TCEQ
  • 2 Cases where the application in question was withdrawn
  • 4 Default judgement for TCEQ
  • 25 Cases were settled
    • SOAH Case No. 582-14-4716
      SOAH concurs with TCEQ regarding an unauthorized municipal solid waste site, assesses $7,500 penalty. All but $3,600 of the penalty was deferred.
    • SOAH Case No. 582-14-3597
      SOAH remanded to TCEQ. Applicant may amend application. TCEQ to review amendment (Pintail)
    • SOAH Case No. 582-15-1629
      SOAH concurs with the TCEQ. Assesses a $3,291 administrative penalty for failure to monitor water quality.
    • SOAH Case No. 582-15-4545
      SOAH concurs with the TCEQ. Deny application regarding an underground storage tank due to prior conviction of Negligent Introduction of a Pollutant or Hazardous Substance into a Public Sewer System without a Permit.
    • SOAH Case No. 582-18-1848
      SOAH concurs with the TCEQ. Assesses a $3,157 administrative penalty for accepting a fuel delivery without a valid TCEQ delivery certificate.

Casey Bell

Date Licensed: November 3, 1999

Employed at Duggins Wren Mann & Romero, LLP, an Austin based law firm as of January 2019.

163 TCEQ cases between Qualtrough and Bell.

Dolcefino Consulting has not obtained Casey Bell’s application for his Administrative Law Judge position with the State Office of Administrative Hearings.

Rodolfo "Rudy" Calderon

Date Licensed: November 5, 2004

10 Cases

  • 2 Cases where the contesting parties withdrew
  • 5 Cases were settled
  • 3 SOAH Interventions 
  • SOAH Case No. 582-18-4846 and No. 582-18-4847
    2 Cases regarded the same application for an air quality permit for a petrochemical manufacturing complex.
    • Concurs with the TCEQ. Suggests granting an unaltered verions of TCEQS’ permit.

Elizabeth Drews

Date Licensed: October 20, 1981

Christiaan Siano

Date Licensed: November 4, 2005

2 Cases

  • 1 Case where the contesting parties withdrew
  • 1 Case was settled 

Steven Neinast

Date Licensed: October 30, 1981

Ross Henderson

Date Licensed: November 5, 2004

13 Cases

  • 2 Non-suited by the TCEQ
  • 3 Ongoing
  • 2 Cases where the contesting parties withdrew
  • 5 Cases were settled

Meaghan Bailey

Date Licensed: November 2, 2012

2 Cases

  • 1 Default Judgement for the TCEQ
  • 1 SOAH Intervention
    • SOAH Case No. 582-18-3786
      Concurred with the TCEQ’s assessment of a $4,832 administrative penalty in an enforcement action involving underground storage tanks.

Beth Bierman

Date Licensed: May 8, 1987

Linda Brite

Date Licensed: November 4, 2011

13 Cases

  • 1 Nonsuited by the TCEQ
  • 3 Default Judgements for the TCEQ
  • 4 Cases where the contesting parties withdrew
  • 4 Cases were settled
  • 1 SOAH Intervention
    • SOAH Case No. 582-18–3270

Henry Card

Date Licensed: November 5, 1982

Jeffrey Huhn

Date Licensed: November 1, 1991

Carrie McLarty

Date Licensed: May 5, 1989