The Coast Guard is challenging some of the assertions made in a Baltimore Sun article questioning the impartiality of the agency's administrative law system (see earlier story).
A statement issued today by Rear Adm. Mary E. Landry, U.S. Coast Guard Director of Governmental and Public Affairs says:
The article "Justice Capsized," in Sunday's Baltimore Sun, and Tuesday's editorial "A listing court" in the same newspaper, emphasize statistics that may leave readers with an erroneous impression that I would like to correct. Pending litigation prevents me from addressing other allegations in the article and editorial.
In an industry with over 200,000 mariners, few violations are serious enough to reach administrative law judges. The Coast Guard only initiates action when failing to do so might endanger the public or the environment.
More than half of over 6,300 charges against mariners since 1999 resulted from a positive drug test, or drug- or alcohol-related convictions. Most remaining charges involve refusal to submit to mandatory drug tests; false or incomplete statements in applications for credentials, mostly involving failure to reveal criminal convictions; and misconduct, mostly involving drug or alcohol use, including operating a vessel while intoxicated.
All of these cases directly affect safety or security. While all mariners are entitled to due process, federal law appropriately allows little discretion for activities in any mode of transportation that may endanger public safety. Nevertheless, the process is remedial, not criminal. The vast majority of mariners charged with drug and alcohol offenses take advantage of rehabilitation programs we have established. As a result, few cases are contested and fully adjudicated by administrative law judges.
More than 2400 of the 6,300 charges were administratively withdrawn, fully admitted, or have not yet been assigned to an administrative law judge. Approximately 2800 charges settled voluntarily prior to assignment to an administrative law judge. The Sun's reporting incorrectly classified these 5,200 charges, all of which involved little or no administrative law judge involvement, as Coast Guard victories.
Coast Guard administrative law judges are bound to fairly and impartially adjudicate cases. They are no different from counterparts at other agencies. At the heart of the cases they preside over is the safety and welfare of passengers, commerce, and the environment. This public trust must be shared by judges, investigators, and professional mariners.