What is SOAH?

The State Office of Administrative hearings (SOAH) has functioned like a court system for cases brought against state agencies since 1991.

Now, SOAH plays a critical role in approval of garbage dumps in Texas. They’re also responsible for enforcing punishment handed down by the TCEQ against violators of Texas environmental laws.  SOAH’s site states the office “continues to serve as an independent, neutral forum for the State of Texas, providing a fair and efficient hearings process and the opportunity for alternative dispute resolution.”

SOAH’s original purpose was to provide an administrative law judge (ALJ), also known as a hearing officer, for agencies who didn’t have one solely dedicated to matters related to contested cases before state agencies. Other agencies that are not required by the statute to use SOAH have contracted to have SOAH’s ALJs conduct their hearings. Since its creation SOAH has gained additional jurisdiction to conduct hearings for other agencies.

SOAH’s Role

The Administrative Law Handbook states the mission of SOAH “is to ensure that contested case hearings are conducted fairly, objectively, promptly and efficiently, and that they result in quality and timely decisions.” According SOAH’s site, “On average, SOAH hears cases for over 50 state agencies and conducts approximately 30,000 hearings per year.” Notably, administrative law judges make the decisions in cases brought before the office.

If the TCEQ granted a preliminary permit in say, a garbage dump fight, citizens wishing to fight the permit issuance would go to SOAH for a contested case hearing.

The role of the State Office of Administrative Hearings is crucial to the ongoing fight against the proposed garbage dumps in Laredo and in Caldwell County.

In Caldwell County, opponents of the planned 130 Environmental Park continue their legal battle to overturn the decisions of SOAH and the TCEQ, claiming critical mistakes were made. SOAH is accused of ignoring evidence engineers hired by Green Group even destroyed records to hide the truth.

Read the 550 page appeal yourself.

SOAH Judges

Dolcefino Consulting’s investigation has raised some questions about the impartiality of SOAH and its administrative law judges.

Twelve of the administrative law judges that are currently working for SOAH actually worked for TCEQ first.

Kerrie Qualtrough

Date Licensed: November 2, 1990

Work Experience

09/01/1990 – 07/31/1992: Briefing Attorney for First Court of Appeals

08/10/1991 – 07/31/1992: Assistant County Attorney – Harris County Attorney’s Office

08/10/1992 – 05/31/1996: Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission
   -Represented the agency directed in a contested case hearing and enforcement matters
      •Her areas of expertise were administrative and environmental law, water, and waste

01/02/2005 – 08/11/2008: Senior Attorney for TCEQ
   -Manager of 14 staff attorneys in Water Quality

Qualtrough also worked as a lobbyist for many years. Peek into her activity while at Potts & Reilly, LLP:

1996 Clients
  • Northeast Texas Municipal Water District
    • Less than $10,000
  • Brown & Potts, LLP
    • Less than $10,000
  • East Cedar Creek Fresh Water Supply
    • Less than $10,000
  • City of Jacksonville
    • $25,000-$49,999.99
1997 Clients
  • Sierra Blanca Community Development Corporation
    • Less than $1,000
  • Brown & Potts, LLP
    • Less than $10,000
  • First River Place Reserve
    • Less than $10,000
  • Northeast Texas Municipal Water District
    • Less than $10,000
  • City of Stephenville
    • $10,000-$24,999.99
  • City of Jacksonville
    • $25,000-$49,999.99
  • Merco Joint Venture
    • $50,000-$99,999.99
1998 Clients
  • Sierra Blanca Community Development Corporation
    • Less than $1,000
  • Brown & Potts, LLP
    • Less than $10,000
  • City of Corpus Christi
    • Less than $10,000
  • First River Place Reserve, Ltd
    • Less than $10,000
  • Kenneth D. Reynolds
    • Less than $10,000
  • Merco Joint Venture
    • Less than $10,000
  • Northeast Texas Municipal Water District
    • Less than $10,000
  • City of Jacksonville
    • $10,000-$24,999.99
  • City of Stephenville
    • $10,000-$24,999.99*

      *Previously amended from “Less than $10,000
The Merco/Sierra Blanca Connection

In 1992 Merco’s contract to dump New York’s waste “biosolids” in Sierra Blanca, Texas began. <br>Merco bought the land for $4.5m, and paid a $20,000 fee to a title company owned by the county judge, Bill Love. Love operated the only title company in town. Love decides not to run for county judge again after this. He had a weekly newspaper, the Southwestern Sun News, which he used to promote Merco.

Bell would also form the Sierra Blanca Community Development Corporation in 1996 as this was all happening as a way for Merco to make payments to a local community development organization to attempt to buy some good will. Love said that there just hadn’t been a reason prior to ’96 to form such a non-profit.

According to the news article, “Merco first hired Mr. Fore, a former Texas Water Commission official. He suggested that Merco hire Susan E. Potts, a savvy Austin lawyer, who in turn brought in Cliff Johnson, a former Water Commission board member and now an aide to Gov. George W. Bush Jr.”

The Texas Water Commission would turn into the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission. The TNRCC would eventually become the TCEQ, where Qualtrough went to work after Qualtrough was lobbying for Merco and Sierra Blanca Community Development Corp right as Merco would have been renewing their contract with Sierra Blanca to dump the “biosolids” (treated waste sludge) in Sierra Blanca (renewed 1998). Merco supposedly has ties to the Lucchese crime family in NYC.

In 1996 Love forms Sierra Blanca Community Development Corp, which takes donations from Merco. Qualtrough was a lobbyist for both Sierra Blanca Community Development Corp and for Merco in 1997 and 1998.

According to the Texas Tribune, Qualtrough makes $132,000 per year.

Other noteworthy cases involving Qualtrough include:

Effective Environmental Inc
  • Unknown case type or reason.
  • Remanded to the TCEQ ED per an agreed order
Sharps Environmental Services Inc
  • MSW Incinderator contested case hearing
  • The contestants withdrew their protest
  • Remanded
Moyses Escamilla and M&M Waste Inc
  • Waste management service facility enforcement action
  • Remanded to ED pursuant to settlement
Fuel Centers Environmental Management, LLC (dba Fuel Center of Legacy)
  • Underground storage tank enforcement action
  • Remanded for settlement agreement

163 TCEQ cases between Bell and Qualtrough

Here’s Kerrie Qualtrough’s application to SOAH.

Stephanie Frazee

Date Licensed: November 2, 2007

Administrative Law Judge Since 2015
Work Experience
  • 09/01/2008 to 03/26/2014: TCEQ – Team Lead and Staff Attorney
    • Team Lead for SEP (Supplemental Environmental Projects)
      • Program where if you get in trouble for breaking TCEQ rules, you can do a community project or a clean up of an environmental issue and forgo the fine.
    • Represented director in enforcement cases
    • Litigation practice before SOAH
    • Litigation employee of the quarter: Fourth Quarter 2010, 2011, and 2012
  • 08/13/2007 to 08/15/2008: Law Clerk for Federal Magistrate Tu M. Pham in Memphis TN

According to the Texas Tribune, Frazee makes $128,000 per year.

Take a look at the outcomes from hearings involving Frazee and her former employer, the TCEQ:

Case History Involving TCEQ
  • SOAH Denies Permit (Which TCEQ posted for N&C): 1
  • SOAH Agrees w/ TCEQ misc :4
  • TCEQ & Respondent Settle: 29
  • TCEQ Receives Default: 3
  • TCEQ Non-Suit: 1
  • Protestants Settle/Withdraw: 9
  • Pending Cases: 2
  • Applicant Withdraws Application: 2
TCEQ Cases

51 Cases

  • 2 cases ongoing
  • 3 cases dismissed or withdrawn before a setting
  • 9 cases where the contesting parties withdrew
  • 1 non-suited by the TCEQ
  • 2 cases where the application in question was withdrawn
  • 4 default judgments for TCEQ
  • 25 cases were settled
  • 5 SOAH Interventions
    • 1 case where SOAH concurs with TCEQ regarding an unauthorized municipal solid waste site, assesses $7,500 penalty (all but $3600 deferred) (SOAH Case Number: 582-14-4716)
    • 1 case where SOAH remanded to TCEQ. Applicant may amend application. TCEQ to review amendment (Pintail) (SOAH Case Number: 582-14-3597)
    • 1 case where SOAH concurs with TCEQ, assesses a $3,291 administrative penalty for failure to monitor water quality (SOAH Case Number: 582-15-1629)
    • 1 case where SOAH concurs with TCEQ. Deny application regarding an underground storage tank due to prior conviction of Neg Introduction of a pollutant or hazardous substance into a public sewer system without a permit (SOAH Case Number: 582-15-4545)
    • 1 case where SOAH concurs with TCEQ; assesses $3,157 administrative penalty for accepting a fuel delivery w/o a valid TCEQ delivery certificate (SOAH Case Number: 582-18-1848)

Here’s Frazee’s application to be an Administrative Law Judge with SOAH.

Casey Bell

Date Licensed: November 3, 1999

163 TCEQ cases between Bell and Qualtrough

Rodolfo “Rudy” Calderon

Date Licensed: November 5, 2004

TCEQ Cases

10 Cases

  • 2 cases where the contesting parties withdrew
  • 5 cases were settled
  • 3 SOAH Interventions
  • 2 cases regarded the same application for an air quality permit for a petrochemical manufacturing complex.
    • Concurs with TCEQ. suggests granting an unaltered version of TCEQs permit (SOAH Case Number: 582-18-4846 & 582-18-4847)
  • 1 case regarding an air quality permit application from a natural gas liquefaction and export terminal.
    • SOAH agrees with TCEQ. says permit should be approved as drafted with one change to require hot oil heaters be limited to Nox (SOAH Case Number: 582-19-6261)

Here is Rudy’s application to SOAH.

Elizabeth Drews

Date Licensed: October 30, 1981

Elizabeth Drews’ SOAH application is linked here.

Christiaan Siano

Date Licensed: November 4, 2005

TCEQ Cases

2 Cases

  • 1 case where the contesting parties withdrew
  • 1 case was settled

Here is Siano’s application to SOAH.

Steven Neinast

Date Licensed: October 30, 1981

Judge Neinast’s SOAH application can be found here.

Ross Henderson

Date Licensed: November 5, 2004

TCEQ Cases

13 Cases

  • 2 non-suited by the TCEQ
  • 3 ongoing
  • 2 cases where the contesting parties withdrew
  • 5 cases were settled

Find the application of Ross W. Henderson attached here.

Meaghan Bailey

Date Licensed: November 2, 2012

TCEQ Cases

2 Cases

  • 1 default Judgement for TCEQ
  • 1 SOAH intervention
    • Concurred with the TCEQ’s assessment of a $4,832 administrative penalty in an enforcement action involving underground storage tanks. (SOAH Case Number: 582-18-3786)

Judge Bailey’s application to SOAH can be found here.

Beth Bierman

Date Licensed: May 8, 1987

Here’s Beth Bierman’s application to SOAH.

Linda Brite

Date Licensed: November 4, 2011

TCEQ Cases

13 Cases

  • 1 nonsuited by the TCEQ
  • 3 default judgments for TCEQ
  • 4 cases where the contesting parties withdrew
  • 4 cases were settled
  • 1 SOAH intervention
    • SOAH determines that the district erred in the amount of 1.215 million. TCEQ does not have an announced opinion on the subject. (SOAH Case Number: 582-18-3270)

Find Linda Brite’s SOAH application here.

Henry Card

Date Licensed: November 5, 1982

Find Henry “Hank” Card’s SOAH application here.

Jeffrey Huhn

Date Licensed: November 1, 1991

Jeffrey Huhn’s SOAH application is linked here.

Carrie McLarty

Date Licensed: May 5, 1989

Find Carrie McLarty’s application to SOAH here.