(a) In the event the Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries is of the opinion that a condition exists which would jeopardize the interest of persons patronizing, or who may patronize, a public warehouse by reason of the manner in which such public warehouse is being operated or that the same is being operated without having complied with the laws or rules and regulations relating to the operation of public warehouses, he shall order a public hearing thereon, to be held in the office of the commissioner at Montgomery or at the courthouse of the county in which the warehouse is being operated, to determine what action shall be taken relative to the said warehouse.
(b) It shall be the duty of the Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries to give notice by registered mail addressed to the owners or operators of the public warehouse at least 10 days prior to the date fixed for the hearing, of the time and place thereof.
(c) Upon the hearing, the Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries shall hear sworn testimony of persons complaining as to the manner of the operation of the warehouse and of agents and employees of the Department of Agriculture and Industries who have made investigations into the manner of the operation thereof. He shall also hear sworn testimony of the owners and operators of said warehouse, if any is offered, and the sworn testimony of any persons which they may offer in refutation of the complaints and charges.
(d) The Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries in such cases shall have the authority to compel the attendance of witnesses by issuing subpoenas signed by him, which subpoenas must be served by any lawful officer of the State of Alabama and due return made thereon as is provided by law for the procuring of testimony in civil actions in the circuit courts of this state.
(e) Each witness so subpoenaed and attending upon such hearing shall be entitled to $3 per day for each day of his attendance upon such hearing and $.05 for each mile necessarily traveled in coming to and returning from the hearing.
(f) In the event that investigation results in a finding of the Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries that the said public warehouse is being operated in a manner in violation of the laws and regulations pertaining thereto or in a manner which jeopardizes the interest of the persons patronizing the same, witnesses subpoenaed and attending on behalf of the warehouse shall not be paid from public funds, but the witnesses attending on behalf of the complainant or on behalf of the commissioner shall be paid from the funds of the Department of Agriculture and Industries in the treasury. In the event that the finding of the commissioner shall determine that the public warehouse is being operated in compliance with law and regulations relating thereto, all witnesses appearing upon such hearing shall be paid from the funds of the Department of Agriculture and Industries.
(g) Upon such hearing the Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries shall have authority to administer oaths to witnesses and to compel the production of books and records necessary to a determination of the issue involved in such cause by the issuance of subpoena duces tecum and all other necessary process.
(h) The public warehouse involved and the owners and operators thereof may appear in person or by counsel and shall have the benefit of compulsory process for the attendance of its witnesses.
(i) Willful failure to obey the process issued to witnesses by the Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries shall be punishable as in cases of failure to obey the process issued out of the circuit courts of this state. In such cases the commissioner shall certify to the judge of the circuit court having jurisdiction at the place of the commissioner's hearing the fact of willful disobedience of his subpoena, whereupon such judge shall cause the defaulting witness to appear before him upon a date fixed to show cause why he should not be adjudged in contempt for the willful failure to obey the process issued by the commissioner as hereinabove provided, and upon determination of willful disobedience of such process, shall enter judgment and impose punishment as in cases of contempt of the circuit court.
(j) In the conduct of such hearing the Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries shall not be bound by the strict rules of evidence prevailing in the courts of the state.