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FCC Chairman Announces New Administrative Law Judge

WASHINGTON — Jane Hinckley Halprin will serve as the FCC’s new administrative law judge, succeeding Richard Sippel, who has been in the post for 32 years.

Halprin’s appointment could have an impact on Sinclair Broadcast Group.

In July, the FCC referred Sinclair’s proposed merger with Tribune Media to the judge, on the claim that the company engaged in “misrepresentation” or a “lack of candor” in its applications. Sinclair denied such conduct and, after the merger fell apart, asked that a hearing before the judge be terminated.

Sippel, however, never issued any decision on the matter, according to industry sources. Democrats have wanted the hearing to go forward, and groups like the American Cable Association want the FCC to seek an early renewal of four of Sinclair’s broadcast licenses so that the claims can be reviewed.

A Sinclair spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment, nor did the administrative law judge’s office.

The FCC said Sippel announced his retirement last week. The administrative law judge is appointed by a vote of all of the commissioners.

“Jane has done tremendous work at the FCC and I congratulate her on this new role,” he said. “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.”

For the past 14 years, Halprin served in the FCC’s Office of the General Counsel as an ethics counsel. She joined the FCC in 1987 and led the agency’s ethics team as assistant general counsel for ethics.

The administrative law judge is responsible for hearings ordered by the commission.

FCC commissioner Michael O’Rielly has been critical of the administrative law judge process as one that has turned into a “black hole of indecision, inefficiency, and arbitrariness.”

He said this was “the perfect moment to overhaul the ALJ functions and enact needed reforms, including a determination of whether they are still needed.”

He said Halprin’s “skills and background will be needed to resolve pending cases quickly and set the office on an improved course.”

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