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Principles of due process apply to administrative adjudications. A fair trial in a fair tribunal is a basic requirement of due process. Fairness of course requires an absence of actual bias in the trial of cases. Not only is a fair proceeding required, but also justice must satisfy the appearance of justice.
Respondent Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) barred petitioner stockbroker's employment with a firm due to his violation of federal securities laws. The SEC instituted proceedings for the stockbroker's permanent bar of any securities-related employment. While the proceedings were pending, an SEC commissioner described the bar as permanent. The stockbroker challenged the SEC's orders and the commissioner's delay in recusing himself. The stockbroker argued that the SEC commissioner's statements prior to the adjudication of the disbarment proceedings and the commissioner's participation in the proceedings biased the proceedings or impermissibly tainted the proceedings with the appearance of impropriety.
Did the commissioner's continued participation in the disbarment proceedings violate due process?
The court held that the stockbroker's bar from employment with a particular firm was a sanction within the discretion of the SEC. However, the court found that the commissioner's statements regarding the stockbroker's permanent bar from securities-related employment while the proceedings were pending revealed that the commissioner had prejudged the matter. Even though the commissioner recused himself prior to the filing of the SEC's final decision, there was no way of knowing how the commissioner's participation affected the SEC's deliberations. The commissioner's continued participation in the disbarment proceedings violated due process.