FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, has used the latest chapter in an Amateur Radio enforcement proceeding to reiterate his call that the Commission abolish its Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) system. The long-standing case involves efforts by William F. Crowell, W6WBJ, (ex-N6AYJ), of Diamond Spring, California, to renew his license. Late last week, the FCC denied reconsideration of Crowell’s petition to have the Commission assign a new ALJ to his case, arguing that the current ALJ, Richard L. Sippel, is biased against him. Attaching his own comments to a Memorandum and Opinion Order (MO&O), released on April 26, O’Rielly said he approved the Commission’s opinion that Crowell’s appeal was justifiably denied, but he expressed concern that the ALJ “took unnecessary actions” in Crowell’s case, and in another unrelated proceeding.
“On a larger scale, complaints about the ALJ process are not isolated incidents, but paint a picture of questionable decisions coupled with an elevated level of inefficiency,” O’Rielly said. “It seems to me that, too often, the Commission has had to reverse the decisions of the ALJ or address one ALJ decision or another. This reality only reaffirms my call to consider eliminating the ALJ process altogether.”
It has been 10 years since the FCC set Crowell’s license renewal application for hearing, and nearly as long since Crowell requested disqualification of the ALJ assigned to his case. Crowell’s license renewal hearing centered on whether he had violated FCC Part 97 rules by intentionally interfering with and/or otherwise interrupting radio communications, transmitting one-way communications, indecent language and music, and whether he is qualified to be and remain a Commission licensee and have his renewal application granted.
In 2016, the FCC imposed a $25,000 fine on Crowell for intentionally interfering with the transmissions of other radio amateurs and transmitting prohibited communications, including music. The penalty represents the full amount proposed in a December 2015 Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL), and, the FCC said in an August 2 Forfeiture Order (FO), “is based on the full base forfeiture amount as well as an upward adjustment reflecting Mr. Crowell’s decision to continue his misconduct after being warned that his actions violated the Communications Act and the Commission’s rules.”
“Mr. Crowell does not deny that he made the transmissions that prompted the NAL in this proceeding, but argues, in large part, that those transmissions were protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution,” the Forfeiture Order said.
“We have examined Crowell’s claims of bias in accordance with our precedent, a task made more difficult because Crowell provides virtually no detailed factual support or references to the record for his allegations,” the FCC concluded in this month’s MO&O.
Crowell’s license, which expired in 2007, has not been renewed, but Crowell may continue to operate while his renewal application is pending.