In a July 9 Order, FCC Administrative Law Judge Richard L. Sippel has ended the decade-old license renewal proceeding involving William Crowell, W6WBJ (ex-N6AYJ), of Diamond Springs, California, upon a motion by Enforcement Bureau Chief Rosemary C. Harold. Termination of the proceeding and the dismissal of Crowell’s license renewal application followed his refusal to appear for a hearing in Washington, DC, to consider his license renewal and other issues in an enforcement proceeding that dates back 15 years or more.
“Crowell’s decision not to appear at the hearing has the same practical effect as if he had initially failed, pursuant to Section 1.221(c) of the Rules, to file a written notice of appearance or otherwise signal his intent to participate in the hearing on his pending renewal application, i.e., he has waived his right to prosecute that application,” Harold said in the Enforcement Bureau’s June 12 motion to dismiss Crowell’s license renewal application.
In his Order, Sippel said he agreed with Harold’s determination. Crowell had asserted that the FCC was obliged to hold field hearings in the city nearest to a licensee’s residence, but Sippel said that was incorrect. Crowell invoked financial hardship rules, but Sippel said those would not apply in an Amateur Radio case. Dismissal of the renewal application was “with prejudice,” which means that Crowell cannot appeal the finding. It also puts Crowell off the air.
It has been 10 years since the FCC set Crowell’s license renewal application for hearing, which was to center on whether he had violated FCC Part 97 rules in the early 2000s, in part by causing intentional interference, transmitting music, and “using indecent language,” and whether he was qualified to have his renewal application granted.
Crowell raised the lengthy delay in his response to Harold’s June 12 motion. “The more-than-10-year delay in holding a hearing herein (that’s only since the Hearing Designation Order [was] issued; the pre-HDO part of the case goes back to 2000!) violates my administrative due process rights,” claimed Crowell, who is an attorney. “A violation of administrative due process appears where, due to delay, a party’s ability to obtain the truth has been seriously compromised.”
Crowell claimed that most of the witnesses who might testify at a hearing are now deceased, and “the evidence is terribly stale.” Crowell said the Enforcement Bureau “has no excuse for not having taken this case to a hearing at a much earlier date, and, at this point, my ability to elucidate the truth has been fatally compromised.”
Subsequently, in an August 2016 Forfeiture Order (FO), 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 FCC said Crowell did not deny making the transmissions but argued, in large part, that those transmissions were protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution.
“It is well-established that regulation of radio in general does not violate the First Amendment or [the Communications Act], and courts have made clear that this conclusion applies to the Amateur Service as well,” the FCC responded.
Prompting the investigation that led the FCC to impose the substantial fine were complaints by members of the Western Amateur Radio Friendship Association (WARFA), which conducts nets three times a week on 75 meters. Crowell had argued that the WARFA Net monopolized the frequency and refused to let him check in. Sippel said he had stayed the renewal case on the basis of the pending Forfeiture Order proceeding, but said he was later informed that the US Department of Justice had decided not to prosecute the case. The FCC also denied Crowell’s request to disqualify Sippel, after Crowell claimed that Sippel was biased.
Crowell’s license expired in 2007, but he was allowed to continue to operate while his renewal application was pending. With his license renewal proceeding terminated, he may no longer operate legally.