Last week a county resident came to my office with a concern about whether he was going to be charged with a crime. He showed me a letter he had received from a state agency. The letter said it had been decided that he had committed a civil infraction by advertising to work without having a license. A fine of $1,000 had been imposed. He was notified that he had to pay the fine or appeal within 30 days. The cost of appeal was $200 and there would be a hearing. At the hearing he would have to prove he had not committed the infraction! The letter said if he did not respond within 30 days, he lost the right to appeal and the $1,000 was immediately due.
The letter also warned that if he did not respond within 30 days or pay the $1,000 fine or the $200 to appeal, he would be subject to prosecution for a gross misdemeanor. (A gross misdemeanor is punishable by up to 364 days in jail). This threat of prosecution was what the gentleman and his wife were concerned about.
He told me he had called the agency and told them he didn’t have the $1,000 to pay the fine or the $200 to appeal. He asked me if it was legal for the state to decide he was guilty without a hearing. He said also said he did not think it was fair for him to have to prove he was not guilty. After listening to him and reading the papers he brought, I told him I agreed that it did not seem fair and that I would look into this issue for him.
I asked one of my deputies to take a little time and research this point. He came back later and said that so far as he could tell, what the letter said was the law. He had to pay to appeal and at the hearing he had the burden to prove he had not committed the infraction.
This gentleman is 80 years old. He is trying to work to put food on the table for himself and his wife and doing what he can to stay fit by being active.
There are good reasons to license persons who contract for work, but in my opinion, the fact that he had been found guilty without a hearing and that he had to pay to appeal and then would have to prove he was not guilty, is a violation of a person’s due process rights. This is an example of government regulation run amuck. I told him I could not do much about what the law was, but that I had no interest in a criminal prosecution against him. I also told him the State could and probably will pursue a civil action against him.