The FCC's lone administrative law judge (ALJ), Richard Sippel, retired effective Dec. 1.
Some watchers of the fallout from the failed Sinclair-Tribune deal had wondered why there had been no word out of Sippel's office on the status of the FCC's reference of the deal to the ALJ for a hearing over commissioners' questions about whether Sinclair had mislead it.
The chairman's office announced Thursday (Dec. 6) that Sippel would be replaced by Jane Hinckley Halprin, who presumably will have to officially close the hearing if that is happening. The chairman gets to pick the ALJ and tapped a veteran FCC legal mind.
Once the deal tanked, the FCC's Enforcement Bureau had signaled it was OK if the hearing were scrapped, but there had been no official word and some Hill Dems were pressing for the hearing to go forward to resolve the character issue, which could become an issue for Sinclair at station renewal time.
Halprin joined the FCC in 1987 as a staff attorney and has most recently been assistant general counsel for ethics.
“Jane has done tremendous work at the FCC, and I congratulate her on this new role,” said Chairman Pai. “The good judgment she displayed working on ethics issues at the agency for over a decade will serve her well as our Administrative Law Judge. I’d also like to thank Judge Sippel for his 32 years of service as an Administrative Law Judge at the FCC. He served this agency with honor and distinction, and I wish him well in retirement.”
Sippel presided over some high-profile program carriage complaint hearings involving Cablevision and Comcast, Tennis Channel, Game Show Network, MASN and Wealth TV.
Commissioner Michael O'Rielly, a longtime critic of the ALJ office, took the opportunity to call for a reboot.
"I appreciate Jane Halprin’s willingness to take on the ALJ tasks," he said."Her skills and background will be needed to resolve pending cases very quickly and set the office on an improved course."
But he suggested there was a lot of course-correction needed. "The ALJ process has been allowed to turn into a black hole of indecision, inefficiency, and arbitrariness," he said. "It is not worthy of our great nation. Accordingly, this is the perfect moment to overhaul the ALJ functions and enact needed reforms, including a determination of whether they are still needed. I will seek that the Chairman do just that: initiate a proceeding to fix the broken ALJ process. The first priority must be setting a framework with timelines for all decisions and aspects of the office’s work."
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