Posts Tagged With: Administrative law judge

Fugitive Attorney Eric Conn Faces Life Imprisonment In Social Security Benefits Fraud Case

Employee allegedly helped fugitive lawyer Eric Conn plot his escape for a year

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Psychologist In SSA $550 Million Fraud Case Sentenced

Adkins gets 25 years, $93M in fines

 A Pikeville, Kentucky, psychologist’s involvement in disgraced former Attorney Eric Conn‘s $550 milion Social Security fraud scheme and rejection to take a plea deal will cost him 25 years behind bars and more than $93 million in fines, the U.S. Department of Justice announced September 22, 2017.

Doctor Alfred Bradley Adkins (PHd), 46, was sentenced by Lexington-based U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves of the Eastern District of Kentucky after a jury found him guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire frauds, one count of mail fraud, one count of wire fraud and one count of making false statements after a June 2017 trial.

The $93 million in restitution will be paid to the Social Security Administration and other agencies. He was also ordered to forfeit $187,600 in fees.

While Adkins was the final defendant to be sentenced in the case, the book on the largest Social Security fraud case in the nation may never close with its ringleader Conn missing after he absconded from supervision prior to his own sentencing.

As part of the complex scheme, former Huntington-based SSA Administrative Law Judge David Black Daugherty would seek out pending disability cases claimants represented by Eric Conn and assign the cases to himself.

From 2004 to 2011, Conn solicited Adkins to sign medical evaluation forms his office had previously prepared, without reviewing or even evaluating claimants. He received $350 for each approval. Conn subsequently sent the forms to Daugherty, who in turn approved the claimants’ requests for disability.

Their scheme obligated SSA to pay more than $550 million in lifetime benefits to claimants. Of at least 3,149 disability cases filed by Conn, more than 1,700 have been deemed fraudulent by government investigators.

Conn paid Daugherty more than $609,000 for granting benefits and nearly $200,000 to Adkins for signing the forms. For his part, Conn received more than $7 million in attorney’s fees.

Conn fled from the area prior to his sentencing and was last spotted in July at a gas station and a Walmart in New Mexico, according to the FBI, citing photos from surveillance cameras.

Despite his absence, Reeves sentenced him to 12 years in federal prison, the maximum allowed for stealing from the government through fraudulent disability claims and paying bribes to a Social Security judge.

Conn was ordered to pay more than $100 million in restitution to Social Security and Medicare, along with $5.7 million to the U.S. Department of Justice. He also received a $50,000 fine.

Daugherty, 81, was sentenced last month to a four-year federal prison sentence and to repay more than $93.8 million in restitution to the government agencies

A fourth man involved, Charlie Paul Andrus, 67, who was the chief administrative law judge in the Huntington Social Security Office, admitted to retaliation against an office whistleblower, was sentenced to serve six months in prison.

A $20,000 reward is being offered to information leading to Conn’s arrest. Those with information are asked to call the FBI’s Louisville, Kentucky, office at 502-263-6000.

  • (By COURTNEY HESSLER,
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Red Flag Judges At Social Security Says Rep. Jackie Speier

 

When California Rep. Jackie Speier is not chasing military officers looking for sexual sadists, she is following Social Security Judges trying to “red flag” them. She proposes a system to review cases from “red flag” judges. Judges who have high approval rates send up ‘red flags’. Speier has had enough. The Democrat from San Mateo who has been on the front lines fighting to expose and correct the epidemic of sexual assault and harassment in the military has turned her attention to her own colleagues. Representative Speier introduced a bill that would require all House members and staff to take sexual harassment training every two years.

 Rep. Jackie Speier, California Democrat, one of the heads the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on health care, say Social Security employees should be allowed to look at the social media profiles (such as, Facebook, Twitter, etc) of those applying for disability, reasoning that photos and other information people post can expose the applicants as able-bodied.

She also said that two Social Security judges may have approved thousands of bogus disability claims, but the agency has never gone back to review those judges’ cases to stop the ones that were fraudulent.

Speier said the agency should come up with a system to review cases from “red-flag” judges who show inclinations toward rubber-stamping applications.

In an exhaustive 11-page memo to Social Security acting Commissioner Carolyn W. Colvin, she  detailed nearly a dozen recommendations for improving a disability system that has received an explosion of applications in recent years and is in danger of going bankrupt by 2016.

It was indefensible that the Social Security Administration (SSA) hasn’t reviewed applications approved by two administrative law judges, David B. Daugherty in West Virginia and Charles Bridges in Pennsylvania, who have been accused of making bogus disability determinations.

Kia Anderson, a spokeswoman for Social Security, said the SSA takes fraud seriously and will review the lawmakers’ recommendations.

“We recognize that one case of fraud is too many and work aggressively to detect and prevent abuses. We continue to enhance our program integrity efforts by adding tools like data analytics which enables us to identify patterns of suspicious behavior in disability applications,” she said.

She made a pitch for Congress to grant more funding so the SSA can put more effort into preventing fraud.

The oversight committee has been looking into the disability issue for some time and took testimony from Judge Jasper J. Bede, an SSA Regional Chief Administrative Law Judge who told investigators that some judges appeared to be rubber-stamping applications. (Read more at http://www.amazon.com/socialNsecurity-Confessions-Social-Security-Judge/dp/1449569757)

Judge Bede singled out Judge Bridges, who decided more than 2,000 cases a year and who often went beyond looking at an applicant’s disability and considered income or other factors.

Judge Daugherty, meanwhile, approved 99.7 percent of his cases from 2005 through 2011, awarding disability benefits to 8,413 people — the equivalent of $2.5 billion in total lifetime benefits.

Major cases of disability fraud have been reported in West Virginia, Puerto Rico and, most recently, New York City, where investigators said police officers falsely claimed disability from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Some of those New York cases were exposed in part because investigators found online photos of the officers engaged in flying helicopters, going on deep-sea sport-fishing trips and riding personal watercraft.

That is one reason lawmakers want Social Security employees to scour social media before approving applications, and again when they go back for periodic checks, known as continuing disability reviews (CDR).

“To increase efficiency and reduce the number of erroneous disability determinations, SSA personnel should be allowed to review each applicant’s social media accounts prior to the decision to award benefits. Additionally, we suggest that SSA require that all CDRs incorporate a review of the beneficiary’s social media accounts,”  Ms. Speier said.

 

Social Security has repeatedly refused to let its investigators use social media, arguing that its judges aren’t trained to evaluate the information.

“Adjudicators should do what they are trained to do: Review voluminous files to determine eligibility for disability benefits. Office of Inspector General fraud investigators should do what they are trained to do: vigorously follow up on any evidence of fraud,” said Ms. Anderson.

From 2010 through 2012, Americans filed 8.6 million disability claims, but judges and Social Security’s disability review office reported only 411 suspicions of fraud. That works out to fewer than one out of every 20,000 applications.

Part of the problem is that Social Security is lax in reviewing cases of those deemed temporarily disabled to see whether they have recovered.

But a review of cases from 1980 through 1983 found 40 percent of those receiving disability benefits were not disabled, suggesting a tremendous level of bad payments.

Disability judges who have high approval rates send up red flags because by the time a case gets to an administrative law judge, it has already been denied by at least one previous review at the State DDS, and often by a second DDS review, the two lawmakers said. That would suggest the approval rate for those cases should be low.

Social Security is made up of two trust funds. The main one is the Old Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund, with the Disability Insurance Trust Fund accounting for a smaller but growing part of the agency’s work.

 

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Social Security Administration Pays Lip Service To Disabled Veterans

Social Security launches new expedited disability process for veterans

Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, today announced the launch of a new disability process to expedite disability claims filed by veterans with a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability compensation rating of 100% Permanent & Total (P&T). Under the new process, Social Security will treat these veterans’ applications as high priority and issue expedited decisions, similar to the way the agency currently handles disability claims from Wounded Warriors.

“We have reached another milestone for those who have sacrificed so much for our country and this process ensures they will get the benefits they need quickly,” said Acting Commissioner Colvin. “While we can never fully repay them for their sacrifices, we can be sure we provide them with the quality of service that they deserve. This initiative is truly a lifeline for those who need it most.”

“No one wants to put America’s veterans through a bureaucratic runaround,” said Maryland Congressman John Sarbanes, a leading proponent for increasing assistance to veterans. “As the baby boomer generation ages and more veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan need care, this common sense change will help reduce backlogs and cut through unnecessary red tape so that our most disabled veterans receive the benefits they’ve earned.”

In order to receive the expedited service, veterans must tell Social Security they have a VA disability compensation rating of 100% P&T and show proof of their disability rating with their VA Notification Letter.

The VA rating only expedites Social Security disability claims processing and does not guarantee an approval for Social Security disability benefits. These veterans must still meet the strict eligibility requirements for a disability allowance.

The Acting Commissioner is doing nothing more than giving lip service to disabled veterans in this announcement. This is an empty promise. It is a carrot on a stick. It is a distinction without a difference. This is just a lot of hot air. This will not reduce backlogs and cut through unnecessary red tape. It will have little or no influence on the 1500 Social Security Administration  Administrative Law Judges, many of whom are not veterans and have no sympathy for the disabled veterans. In almost 20 years as a SSA ALJ I never heard more than one or two express anything more than contempt for the military and veterans. When Viet Nam disabled veterans came in for disability hearings they were not given any compassionate consideration. There are a lot of draft dodgers from the 1960s in the ALJ corps. A lot more women are coming into the ALJ corps; many are anti-military.

The requirements for getting benefits have not changed. In order to receive the expedited service, veterans must tell Social Security they have a VA disability compensation rating of 100% P&T and show proof of their disability rating with their VA Notification Letter. It is very difficult for a veteran to get a 100% Permanent and Total Rating. The Acting Commissioner was honest enough to say that “The VA rating only expedites Social Security disability claims processing and does not guarantee an approval for Social Security disability benefits. These veterans must still meet the strict eligibility requirements for a disability allowance.”

Putting the best face possible on this, what the Acting Commissioner has done is promise to provide the the wounded warriors with the quality of service that they deserve. BUT, they should have been getting that all along. That would have been the professional thing to do. So, I ask you, what has changed?

www.socialsecurity.gov/pgm/disability-pt.htm

For information about this service, please visit www.socialsecurity.gov/pgm/disability-pt.htm.

 

For more about Social Security’s handling of Wounded Warrior’s disability claims, please visit

http://www.socialsecurity.gov/woundedwarriors.www.socialsecurity.gov/woundedwarriors.

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Social Security Judges Must Follow Treating Physician Rule

Judge Revives Claim For Disability Benefits

 

Eastern District Judge Arthur Spatt (See Profile) has ordered the Social Security Administration (SSA) to reconsider its decision to deny disability benefits to a 55-year-old union carpenter with a knee injury, finding that an administrative law judge rejected the opinions of the man’s treating physician without justification.

The plaintiff, William Box, slipped and fell on the job in January 2009. He was later diagnosed with multiple injuries in his right knee, including a torn anterior cruciate ligament and torn meniscus. He eventually underwent two surgeries. In November 2009, Box applied for disability benefits. In August 2010, an administrative law judge denied the application. An Appeals Council (A/C) denied Box’s petition for review, and in March 2012, he sued the Social Security Administration seeking to overturn the decision.

Box’s treating physician, Benizon Benatar, submitted an opinion that Box was completely disabled because he could not stand or walk for more than two hours a day.

Another doctor, Erlinda Austria, also examined Box at the request of the New York State Division of Disability Determination. Austria opined that Box was capable of light work. A person capable of light work is presumed to be able to stand and/or work for six of eight hours in a day.

District Judge Spatt found that the ALJ had improperly credited Austria’s testimony over Benatar’s without justification, going against the “treating physician rule,” which requires deference to an applicant’s treating physician.

While an ALJ can choose not to credit a treating physician, Spatt said, that choice must be justified by an analysis of the record, which the ALJ did not do.

Spatt therefore remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with the opinion.

The Claimant, William Box is represented by Sharmine Persaud.

The SSA is represented by Eastern District Assistant U.S. Attorney Vincent Lipari.

The case is Box v. Colvin, 12-cv-1317.

(Brendan Pierson, New York Law Journal,March 19, 2014  )
Read more: http://www.newyorklawjournal.com/id=1202647472089/Judge-Revives-Claim-For-Disability-Benefits#ixzz2wRwdyspq

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Video Hearings At Social Security Are A Denial Of Due Process Rights

Social Security Disability Video Hearings Increased In 2013

Social Security Disability Video Hearings Increase In 2013, Allsup Reports

More people than ever before attended a video hearing in 2013 while seeking Social Security disability benefits.

The number of video hearings increased to 179,308 in fiscal year 2013, more than double the 86,320 video hearings in FY 2009, according to data released by the Social Security Administration (SSA) in its Annual Performance Plan for Fiscal Year 2015. This was an increase of nearly 17 percent from 153,592 video hearings the previous year (FY 2012).

Video hearings are one of the methods SSA uses to reduce the backlog of SSDI claims.

The use of video-conferencing technology to exclude the Claimant from being physically present in the same Hearing Room as the ALJ and other witnesses violates the Claimant’s due process rights. 

A Claimant who can only observe witnesses on a television screen will not be able to observe

the demeanor  of the witnesses and properly ascertain the accuracy and reliability of their proffered evidence.

( http://www.amazon.com/socialNsecurity-Confessions-Social-Security-Judge/dp/1449569757)

The primary  reason, among others, for the use of video hearings is to reduce travel costs and conserve the time of its ALJs and hearing support staff without diminishing the Claimant’s ability to effectively participate in the hearing.”

Social Security (SSA) recently changed its rules regarding videoteleconferencing (VTC), and is now sending notices regarding VTC at an early stage of the hearing level. The new notice requires a decision within 30 days whether or not to object to a video hearing. Previously, the objection to VTC was not made until the time a hearing was actually scheduled.
By moving forward the date by which an objection can be made, the issue of whether to accept a VTC is much easier. You may not know the identity of your judge or when your hearing will be scheduled. This should, make it much easier to “Just say No” to a video hearing.
Social Security loves to use VTC. It is an effective way to reduce a Backlog. There are national hearing centers where administrative law judges (ALJ) hear cases all day by video from remote locations.
SSA expected this change in policy would lead to fewer objections to video hearings. It might have the opposite effect. Logically, if claimants have lawyers who give good advice, this might lead to more refusals to VTC hearings.
Claimants’ representatives are acquainted with the ALJs in their area. They know what the ALJs are looking for in order to decide a case. They can read their body language at an in-person hearing.
A smart attorney would not risk the possibility of his cases being heard by a distant unknown ALJ.
There is another issue that attorneys must consider. ALJs from remote parts of the USA have different and sometimes strange ways of looking at and sizing-up claimants. Also, claimants in certain regions of the USA have different and unique behavioral habits. These peculiarities will effect how an ALJ looks at and judges the claimant and the evidence. Many times it is like a roll of the dice to accept a VTC Hearing. It is safer to “Just Say NO!”.
Every case will be different. It would not be smart to adopt a blanket policy. Every case should be evaluated on its own merit, but the first impulse should always be to refuse to accept a VTC Hearing. You have little to gain and much to loose.

A Claimant could argue that the SSA ALJ must give the Claimant an “opportunity to appear,” as provided in the U S Constitution which requires the defendant and the judge to be physically present in the same courtroom.

 Most reasonable people would agree with this contention, referring to the meaning of appear and to the traditional understanding of a Claimant’s appearance before a court empowered to deprive him of his property, that is to say, his Disability Benefits.

It is noted that both the Webster’s Dictionary and the Black’s Law Dictionary define appear and

appearance so as to suggest that an appearance can only occur if the person comes into the physical presence of the judge. To appear means to be physically present.

The form and substantive quality of a hearing is altered when either the defendant or

the judge is absent from the hearing room, even if he or she is participating by video-conference.

SSDI is a federal insurance program that provides monthly income to people under full retirement age (65-67) with a severe disability lasting at least 12 months or a terminal condition.To apply for SSDI benefits, someone must be unable to work.

SSDI is funded by FICA payroll taxes paid by workers and their employers.

Individuals reach the hearing level after their initial application has been denied two times by the State Disability Determination Service (DDS).

Most hearings are still held in person before administrative law judges (ALJs). But Social Security is increasing its ability to perform hearings through video conferencing, including using video at National Hearing Centers. The SSA has five of these centers in Albuquerque, N.M., Baltimore, Chicago, Falls Church, Va., and St. Louis. (Statistics provided by ALLSUP)

A claimant will give up important due process rights if he or she opts for a video hearing.

During a video hearing, the ALJ, claimant and representative interact with each other using videoconferencing equipment, very similar to a large television. The judge usually remains at his location and connects by video with the claimant at his or her location.

Video conferencing can be more convenient for the claimant, if he or she lives in a remote area. And it saves travel time for the judge.

Consider the following information when preparing for an SSDI hearing.

  •     How should I dress? A hearing is not a time to dress casually. A business suit isnt required, but jeans, shorts and flip flops arent a good idea, even for a video hearing.
  •     What happens when I get there? The process typically is the same for hearings, video or in-person. The judge leads the hearing, and he or she asks questions of the claimant and the representative.
  •     Whats different with a video hearing? It can be important for someone to provide technical support, to make sure the video and sound quality are good, and to ensure the sound recording is working properly. The sound recording is kept for the records.
  •     Who else is there? There also can be vocational experts, medical experts and other witnesses at the hearing to provide testimony.
  •     How does the hearing end? The entire hearing may last about an hour as the ALJ evaluates the information being provided by the person who is seeking SSDI benefits and other testimony. When the judge has all the information he or she needs, the hearing is ended. Its rare that the judge announces the decision (to award or approve) at the conclusion of the hearing.

Some people become very frustrated at video hearings.

  • MADISON, Wisconsin — A Wisconsin Rapids woman will spend three years on probation for threatening to kill a federal administrative law judge (ALJ).

    Fifty-one-year-old Norma Prince was sentenced Thursday March 6, 2014. Prince pleaded guilty in December.

    Prosecutors say the incident happened Jan. 31, 2013, when Prince appeared at a Social Security disability benefits hearing in Wausau.

    Administrative Law Judge Thomas Sanzi was presiding over the hearing by video teleconference from Madison. Prosecutors say Prince became upset and threatened to shoot Judge Sanzi and cut off his head. The hearing was halted and Prince was escorted from the courtroom.

    Prince’s husband told a federal agent that his wife had bought two .22-caliber rifles about a month before the disability hearing.

    At sentencing, U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman said Prince’s mental health issues can be controlled through medication and supervision.

      A video-conference hearing is one  at which all parties were physically present except for the judge and the court reporter, who participate by video-conference from a remote location.

    SSDI claimants should challenge the judge’s decision to conduct a hearing by

    video-conference.

    I present here the question of first impression for SSA SSDI appeals: “whether the

    use of video-conferencing to conduct a hearing violates  the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.

    Although the SSA and no SSA ALJ has previously confronted this exact

    issue, the question of the constitutional and statutory validity of the use

    of videoconferencing technology by the Federal Administrative Agencies is far from

    novel. As technology has advanced rapidly, the SSA has been faced with a surge of new, unforeseen issues that it has had to resolve without legislative direction.

    The invention of video-conferencing appeared to be a perfect solution to the SSA; so, it  has encouraged the use of video-conferencing systems in the Hearing Rooms.

    Courts and government agencies have implemented the use of

    video-conferencing technology in post-conviction proceedings, including

    probation, parole, and supervised release revocation hearings.

    The courts of appeals are beginning to strike down the practice, but only on

    statutory grounds. This trend appears to rest on the general principle

    of judicial restraint that requires courts to avoid constitutional questions

    if statutory analysis is sufficient.

    However, in the absence of legislation or a decision from the United

    States Supreme Court, there remains the potential that SSA ALJ Hearings and other federal courts,  could find that video-conferencing violate a Claimant’s Due Process rights.

    Therefore, the due process rights undermined by the use of video-conferencing technology

    deserve the judiciary’s attention, particularly the right to be present at your Hearing, and to effective assistance of counsel and the right to confront adverse witnesses, such as, SSA’s Consultative Medical Examiners (ME) and Vocational Experts (VE).

     Videoconferencing at Rule 43 Criminal Proceedings

    In the 1990s and early 2000s, circuit courts first considered whether

    the use of videoconferencing at a criminal proceeding governed by Rule 43

    satisfies the statutory requirement that a defendant be “present.”

    Since that time, the Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits have held

    that the use of videoconferencing at Rule 43 proceedings violates a

    defendant’s statutory rights. For example, the Tenth Circuit confronted this issue in 2002 in

    United States v. Torres-Palma. In Torres-Palma, the defendant appeared by videoconference at his

    sentencing, which took place in a different state than where the judge presided. In determining that Rule 43 required a defendant to be physically present at sentencing, the court concluded that the content and the plain reading of the text of Rule 43, along with the Webster’s Dictionary and Black’s Law Dictionary definitions of presence and present, mandated that physical presence

    was required.

     Fifth Circuit noted that the rights protected by Rule 43 include not only due process rights and the common law right to be present, but also the right of a defendant to meet face-to-face with witnesses appearing before the trier of fact, as governed by the Confrontation Clause.

    After the Tenth Circuit’s decision and the decisions of its sister circuits, it was clear that, even though the use of videoconferencing could increase productivity and save money, the technology was not appropriate for Rule 43 proceedings because it violated both common law and statutory rights to be present.

    The reason for the use of video hearings is to reduce travel costs and conserve the time of its ALJs and hearing support staff without diminishing the Claimant’s ability to effectively participate in the

    hearing.”

    Violates his statutory  and constitutional rights when it denied his request for an in-person

    hearing. Specifically,  the use of videoconferencing violated his due process rights and 18 U.S.C. § 4208(e), which requires that a prisoner “be allowed to appear and testify on his own behalf.

    A Claimant could argue that the SSA ALJ must give the Claimant an “opportunity to appear,” as provided in the U S Constitution which requires the defendant and the judge to be physically present in the same courtroom.

     Most reasonable people would agree with this contention, referring to the meaning of appear and to the traditional understanding of a Claimant’s appearance before a court

    empowered to deprive him of his property, that is to say, his Disability Benefits.

    It is noted that both the Webster’s Dictionary and the Black’s Law Dictionary define appear and

    appearance so as to suggest that an appearance can only occur if the person comes into the physical presence of the judge. To appear means to be physically present.

    The form and substantive quality of a hearing is altered when either the defendant or

    the judge is absent from the hearing room, even if he or she is participating by video-conference.

    The Seventh Circuit of Appeals referred to the Supreme Court’s decision in

    Escoe v. Zerbst, in which the Supreme Court determined that a lower

    court’s decision to revoke a defendant’s probation without a hearing

    violated the requirement that he be “brought before the court.” Although Escoe

    predated video-conferencing technology, and the Internet for that matter, the case provided the traditional legal understanding of a person’s appearance. In Escoe, the Court held that

    “‘the end and aim of an appearance before the court’ under the statute was to ‘enable an accused [parolee] to explain away the accusation,’ and this required ‘bringing the [parolee]

    into the presence of his judge.’” Additionally, the Seventh Circuit referenced the statutory language of other Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure that explicitly allow for the use of videoconferencing.

    The court reasoned that, since video-conferencing is permitted only with stated exceptions in the rules, the use of the technology “is the exception to the rule, not the default rule itself,” and that Rule 32.1’s “opportunity to appear,” therefore, excludes appearance by video-conference.

    During its interpretation of the opportunity to appear, the court also examined the statutory rights owed to a defendant at a revocation hearing. Rule 32.1 provides, in pertinent part, that:

    The person is entitled to: . . . (C) an opportunity to appear, present

    evidence, and question any adverse witness . . . ; [and] (D) notice of the

    person’s right to retain counsel or to request that counsel be appointed if

    the person cannot obtain counsel . . . .

    After determining that the opportunity to appear requires a parolee to come into the physical presence of the judge, the court furthered its statutory analysis by noting that this right is not isolated, but instead exists in conjunction with the right to “present evidence,” to “question

    any adverse witness,” and to “make a statement and present any evidence in mitigation. Appearance in court is “the means by which the petitioner effectuates the other rights conferred” by Rule 32.1.

    The conjunctive force of a defendant’s opportunity to appear is particularly important to the defendant’s right to “make a statement and present any information in mitigation” because “appearing before the court allows the [parolee] to plead his case personally to the [deciding]

    judge.”

    This right, known as the right of allocution, “ensures that the defendant has the opportunity to ‘personally address the court’ before punishment is imposed.” Without the physical meeting, the court reasoned, the judge could not experience the impressions of any personal confrontation wherein he or she attempts to assess the parolee’s credibility or to evaluate the defendant’s true moral fiber. Consequently, without the personal, physical interaction between a judge and a parolee, the force of the parolee’s other rights guaranteed by Rule 32.1 is diminished.

    Finally, after determining that the judge’s participation by videoconferencing in Thompson’s revocation hearing violated Rule 32.1, the court vacated Thompson’s term of re-imprisonment and

    remanded. The court resolved the second issue, whether video-conferencing violated Thompson’s due process rights, in a one-sentence footnote: “Because we hold that the judge’s participation by

    video-conference violated Rule 32.1, we need not address Thompson’s argument that holding the hearing by video-conference violated the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.”

    The Court then turned its analysis to the nature of the process that is due a parolee at a revocation hearing, wherein it laid out the minimum requirements of due process. Accordingly, a parolee must have an opportunity to be heard and to show either that he or she did not violate the conditions of release or, alternatively, that there are mitigating circumstances.

    Further, the Court held that the minimum requirements of due process include, in pertinent part, the “(c) opportunity to be heard in person and to present witnesses and documentary evidence; [and] (d) the right to confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses (unless the hearing officer specifically finds good cause for not allowing confrontation).

    Defense counsel suffers a multitude of communication challenges when not in the presence of the judge or the courtroom. Anne Bowen Poulin, a law professor at the Villanova University School of Law, stressed in her discussion of the use of videoconferencing technology that “[t]he attorney will be unable to gauge the emotional interactions and mood of the courtroom as effectively to determine when and how to intervene on the client’s behalf.”She also examined various studies

    that suggest that alliances form among those who are in the same physical location—alliances against those who appear via video-conference.In the case where neither the parolee nor counsel is physically present at the revocation hearing, the effectiveness of counsel is even more imperiled. The court in Thompson, although faced with the opposite situation in which the judge appeared by video-conference, foresaw this consequence and determined that “[t]he important point is that the

    form and substantive quality of the hearing is altered when a key participant is absent from the hearing room, even if he is participating by virtue of a cable or satellite link.” The physical separation of a parolee from counsel inevitably takes its toll on the effectiveness of the counsel, and this effect is most strongly felt by the communication between them. Some courts have tried to curb this problem by providing telephone lines that allow for privileged communication.

    However, this practice still cannot replace the quality of the attorney–client relationship created by in-person interaction.

    According to Poulin, the human interactions that foster the relationship are muted by the technology, which detracts from the defendant’s experience. Likewise, counsel cannot gauge the defendant’s mental and emotional state, and neither party can use nonverbal cues to communicate with each other during a proceeding, both of which are necessary to effective communication. Despite the surplus of communication problems caused by the use of

    video-conferencing technology, Poulin believes that these adversities will not rise to the level of ineffective assistance of counsel in the eyes of the courts.

    However, effective communication is so integral to the role of counsel, and counsel’s ability to effectively assist a client, that it is likely to be a key consideration when a court determines whether the right to effective assistance of counsel has been violated by the use of videoconferencing technology at a revocation hearing. In fact, at least one court has recognized that the use of technology to physically exclude a parolee from the courtroom, as well as from counsel, violates the right to counsel because of the detrimental effect it has on communication.

    In Schiffer v. State, the District Court of Appeal of Florida heard an appeal from a revocation hearing and a subsequent sentencing hearing in which the parolee participated via

    video/audio arrangement. The court found that, because the parolee had no means by which to access and to communicate privately with his counsel, his right to counsel was “obliterated.” The court held that “[w]e can imagine no more fettered and ineffective consultation and communication between an accused and his lawyer than to do so by television in front of a crowded courtroom with the prosecutor and judge able to hear the exchange.

    The use of videoconferencing technology in revocation hearings also violates the parolee’s due process right to confront adverse witnesses.

    As with the right to effective assistance of counsel, the parolee’s due process right “to be heard in person”works in conjunction with the due process right to confront adverse witnesses. Without the parolee’s physical presence, there is no effective right to confront adverse witnesses that satisfies the minimum requirements of due process. The Ninth Circuit addressed this issue in

    White v. White when it considered whether a bar to the presence of an adverse witness at a

    parole revocation hearing violated due process.

    The court held that “[w]here the facts are contested, the presence of adverse witnesses, absent good cause for their nonappearance, is necessary to enable the parole board to make accurate

    findings.” Therefore, without good cause, the appearance or the presence of adverse witnesses is necessary.

    A parolee has a strong interest in the right to confront adverse witnesses at a revocation hearing, a proceeding at which the parolee’s liberty is at stake. The parolee, who will either want to argue innocence or prove factors in mitigation, cannot effectively exercise a right of confrontation when appearing via vide-oconference, away from the physical presence of the adverse witnesses. Like in Wilkinson, a parolee who can observe witnesses only on screen will not be able to observe

    their demeanor and properly ascertain the accuracy and reliability of their proffered evidence, evidence that is often determinative of the parolee’s fate.

    Therefore, given the strength of a Claimant’s due process right of confrontation, and the insufficiency, or even the complete absence of good cause by the government, a Claimant should be able to successfully demonstrate that the use of vide-oconferencing technology

    to exclude the Claimant from being physically present in the same Hearing Room as the ALJ and other witnesses violates the Claimant’s due process right to confront adverse witnesses.

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It Is Getting Harder To Get Social Security Benefits. The Hearing Backlog Is Growing again.

Social Security Disability Hearing Backlog Growing Again

 Number of people waiting in the hearing backlog approaches 1 million.

If your application was denied and you must appeal your SSDI benefits claim, it’s important to avoid waiting to file and get help.  The Back Log of people waiting to attend a hearing for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits is growing closer to 1 million.

As of December 2013, there were 903,720 people who had filed an appeal and were waiting for a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). , according to  data released by the Social Security Administration (SSA).

This is a nearly 7 percent increase from 847,984 hearings pending at the end of fiscal year 2013, and a 17 percent increase from 771,318 hearings pending in FY 2011.

As the waiting time grows longer, more and more people are enduring significant financial hardship to receive SSDI benefits through a program they paid into through FICA taxes while they were working.

The first-quarter FY 2014 data also shows that the time it takes to get a Hearing has increased to 393 days from 382 days in FY 2013.

Click here to see a state-by-state ranking of pending hearings, based on an analysis of SSA data.

 

The growing Social Security disability Backlog illustrates the challenges of meeting the SSA’s goals outlined in its FY 2008-13 Agency Strategic Plan.

Social Security had planned to reduce the hearing Backlog to 466,000 claims and the average processing time to 270 days, but a number of factors have worked against this.

Restricted funding has led Social Security to cut the hours its Hearing Offices are open to the public. In addition, the average wait time for calls going to the SSA’s national 800-number have increased. Since September 2010, the SSA has lost more than 7,400 employees from its workforce, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

At the same time that waiting times are growing to get a Hearing, it’s becoming much more difficult to receive SSDI benefits.

For example, the SSA reported that 89,332 people were granted benefits in December 2012. A year later, that number was reduced to 61,983 in December 2013, a 30 percent decline.

SSDI is a federally mandated insurance program that provides monthly benefits to individuals who are under full retirement age (65-67) and who can no longer work because of a severe, long-term or terminal disability. FICA payroll taxes paid by workers and their employers fund the program, which is administered by the SSA.

You Need Help When Filing An SSDI Appeal

Things To Consider When Applying for SSDI benefits.

1.    Consult An Attorney. Those who applied for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits without a representative have the opportunity to get help with a disability appeal. At the hearing level of the SSDI program, nearly eight in 10 applicants have a representative.

2.    Appeal Every Thing. When people apply for SSDI and are denied benefits, they may decide to give up on their application. It’s important to pursue a disability appeal because delaying or missing important dates can hurt someone’s claim. For instance, those who decide to wait and apply later may wait too long and become uninsured. The SSA requires individuals to be fully and currently insured in order to receive SSDI benefits. Generally, this means having a work history of five out of the last 10 years—and waiting too long could mean missing this window.

3.    Provide documentation and details. It may take the SSA two years or longer to review an SSDI claim through the appeals process, which points to the importance of good documentation. Continue to work closely with your doctors to document updates, new tests and test result. It’s also important to correct any errors, explain changes and provide more detail with your SSDI appeal.

More than 168,000 people applied for SSDI benefits in December 2013 and entered the growing line for review of their disability insurance claims.

It is important for new SSDI applicants to realize they need expert help with their application. That expertise and attention to your claim can result in benefits as early as your initial application. That means avoiding disability appeals altogether.

 

Find more information about SSDI disability appeal see http://www.amazon.com/socialNsecurity-Confessions-Social-Security-Judge/dp/1449569757

 

(Statistics Source: ALLSUP) ABOUT ALLSUP :

Allsup is a nationwide provider of Social Security disability, veterans disability appeal, Medicare and Medicare Secondary Payer compliance services for individuals, employers and insurance carriers. Allsup professionals deliver specialized services supporting people with disabilities and seniors so they may lead lives that are as financially secure and as healthy as possible. Founded in 1984, the company is based in Belleville, Ill., near St. Louis. For more information, go to Allsup.com or visit Allsup on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/Allsupinc.

 

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Judges Stripped Of Judicial Independnce At SSA

SSA increases oversight of judges in disability determinations

The Social Security Administration (SSA) recently announced plans to increase its oversight of judges (ALJs) in the disability determination process.
February 25, 2014 /24-7PressRelease/ — In an effort to improve consistency in the disability determination process (SSDI), the Social Security Administration (SSA) recently announced plans to step up its oversight of the administrative law judges (ALJ) who are responsible for awarding or denying disability benefits. The Social Security Disability Insurance program provides financial benefits to people who are unable to work because of a mental or physical disability. 
The program has increased substantially in the years since the U.S. economy took a downturn in 2008, and there are now approximately 11 million people receiving disability benefits nationwide. New job descriptions for judges To expand its oversight of the eligibility determination process, the SSA is rewriting the job descriptions of approximately 1,500 judges, who in the past have been given broad discretion over the outcome of eligibility hearings. In recent years, these eligibility hearings have yielded notoriously unpredictable results.
According to a 2011 report by the Wall Street Journal, an applicant’s likelihood of being awarded disability benefits can vary dramatically depending on the judge; while a handful of judges award benefits in nine cases out of ten, others deny benefits nearly as often.  
The new job descriptions will include language stating that the judges are subject to supervision and will remove the words “complete individual independence,” the WSJ reported. It is hoped that the changes will increase accountability among the judges and allow the SSA to take corrective measures when judges award or deny benefits inappropriately.
 Disability benefit determination 
Before becoming eligible to receive SSDI benefits, an applicant must first establish that he or she meets the SSA’s requirements for being considered “disabled.” To do so, the applicant must demonstrate that each of the following is true: – The individual cannot work because of a medical condition. – The condition has lasted or is expected to last for a year or more, or is expected to result in death.
 While the process of applying for SSDI benefits may seem relatively straightforward, in practice it can be cumbersome, time consuming and often frustrating. Not only is it necessary to submit medical records and other evidence of disability, but in most cases applicants are also required to attend an eligibility hearing before an administrative law judge.
Benefits often available after initial denial
Overall, first-time disability applicants are denied benefits as much as, according to some estimates, but a majority of denied applicants who pursue an appeal are eventually awarded benefits.
 In many cases, working with an experienced Social Security Disability lawyer can significantly improve an applicant’s chances of being awarded benefits, whether it is a first-time application or an appeal.
(Article provided by The Berkley Law Firm Visit us at www.berkleylaw.net — Press release service.)
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SSA Judges In NYC Found Guilty Of Bias. 4,000 Disability Claimants Offered New Hearings

New hearings for SS claimants who received unfavorable decisions by ALJs.

A court has approved a settlement agreement in a class action lawsuit involving Social Security Disability claimants in the State of New York. The agreement will provide claimants with new hearings.

January 24, 2014 – A settlement agreement has been reached and approved by the court in a class action lawsuit involving Social Security Disability claimants in the State of New York. Among the different types of relief stipulated in the agreement, claimants are to receive fresh hearings in front of new Administrative Law Judges, or ALJs.

(The specifics of the lawsuit)

 In 2011, various Social Security Disability applicants who sought disability benefits received unfavorable or partially favorable judgements by one of five ALJs from the Queens, New York Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (SSA/ODAR).

The claimants argued that the rulings were biased.

 In April 2011, they filed a lawsuit against the Social Security Administration. The case was later filed as a class action and expanded to include approximately 4,000 total Social Security Disability claimants.

 Attorneys for both sides worked toward a resolution throughout the various months thereafter. (Settlement approved)

A settlement agreement was officially approved by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. The approval came after written comments provided to the court as well as information obtained from the settlement hearings, among other evidence, were reviewed.

The Settlement Agreement includes individual, retrospective and prospective relief for claimants, new training and mentoring for ALJs, and a new Social Security Ruling, or SSR.

(New hearings for class members)

 In more specific terms, the Settlement Agreement stipulates that all eligible claimants, those who received unfavorable or partially favorable decisions from one of the named ALJ, defendant judges during the period stipulated in the complaint, will receive new hearings. The Social Security Administration indicates plans to send out notices to each claimant by the end of next month. Eligible claimants are provided 60 days to request a new hearing once their notices are received.

(Other settlement stipulations)

 The Settlement also stipulates that an automatic review will be conducted by the SSA’s Appeals Council (A/C)for any new claimants who receive unfavorable decisions (those that commenced October 2013 and for 30 months thereafter) by any one of the five ALJs named in the recent lawsuit. If the A/C determines any unfavorable decisions are legally insufficient, the claimant will automatically receive a fresh hearing in front of a new ALJ.

Under the agreement, the SSA will also provide additional training and mentorship to all ALJs to help them improve the ways they handle and conduct Social Security Disability hearings in the future. Additionally, the settlement stipulates a new Social Security Ruling that details new procedures on how to address allegations of “unfair ALJ hearings, ALJ bias, and ALJ misconduct.”

( Article provided by The Klein Law Group, P.C., at www.thekleinlawgroup.com)

NYC Social Security Disability Attorneys.

The Klein Law Group, P.C., fights for the rights of those who have been hurt at work or are unable to qualify for disability pay.

Practicing solely in New York state, with lawyers are highly knowledgeable in the area of New York workers’ compensation law, as well as the complex workings of the federal Social Security Administration.

The Klein Law Group, P.C., can confidently take your case at any stage, from initial application through final appeal before the Workers’ Compensation Board. In the rare event that you do not receive benefits, you pay no attorney’s fees.

The Klein Law Group, P.C., offers free consultations to discuss your rights and review your case. Contact us to arrange a consultation with one of our experienced New York workers’ comp attorneys.

Our international staff speaks Polish, Spanish, Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese) and Russian.

 

Categories: Social Security Judges | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

How To Fix The Social Security Courts

Fixing Disability Courts

A Social Security hearing is not a trial; it is a fact finding inquiry. The system is not even an adversarial system as defined by the judicial process. In an adversarial system, both sides are represented. In the present Social Security Disability Claims System the claimant can bring an attorney, but the system does not provide the government (SSA) with one. The taxpayers have no advocate on their behalf to ask questions, challenge medical evidence or review the 500 to 700 pages of materials that make up a typical case file.

The (Social Security Administration) judicial system is not run by anyone with real judicial experience. It is at the mercy of unelected bureaucrats whose only concern is how many cases each judge can churn out and how fast he or she can do it. An adversarial system with both sides represented and all evidence on the table is the best way to root out fraud and ensure that legitimate claims are paid.

(See http://www.amazon.com/socialNsecurity-Confessions-Social-Security-Judge/dp/1449569757)

An Interview of Judge D. RANDALL FRYE, President Association of Social Security Administrative Law Judges (AALJ) JAN. 19, 2014

(Above pictured is D. Randall Frye, on the right, with Marilyn Zahm)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — (QUOTE) IT’S hard to imagine a more cynical fraud. According to an indictment unsealed last week by the Manhattan district attorney’s office, post-9/11 phobias of airplanes and skyscrapers were among the fictitious ailments described by retired New York City police officers and firefighters who, in a scheme involving as many as 1,000 people, are accused of ripping off the Social Security disability system by filing false claims.

As an administrative law judge (ALJ) responsible for hearing Social Security disability cases (SSDI), I’m more familiar than most people with the system. But everyone has a right to be outraged by the recent charges. Officials estimate that the fraud cost the federal government $400 million. If true, it is the largest theft in the history of Social Security.

According to court papers, the fraudsters claimed to be so ill that they could not leave their homes to work, but many posted photographs on Facebook of themselves on motorcycles and water scooters, fishing and playing sports. How did they expect to get away with it?

Well, here’s a little-known fact. Neither the staff members of the Social Security Administration, who review initial claims, nor judges like myself, who hear disputed cases, are allowed to look at Facebook in the context of a case. Even if something in the case file suggests a claimant is not telling the whole truth, Social Security Administration policy prevents us from looking at social media, for fear that we cannot be trusted to properly assess the information gathered there. No Facebook, no Pinterest, no Twitter, no Tumblr. None of the sources that most employers routinely use to check the credibility of potential employees are available to us.

It gets worse. When a disputed case comes before an administrative law judge, a vast majority of claimants bring an attorney. After all, the average claim, if successful, will yield a payout of some $300,000 in lifetime benefits. With so much at stake, it’s only reasonable that a person who believes that he has wrongly been denied benefits would hire a lawyer. But isn’t it equally reasonable that the taxpayers should have an attorney present to challenge a claim that might be false?

Sorry, no luck. When I conduct a hearing (which occurs with no members of the press or public present, because of privacy concerns), the claimant can bring an attorney, but the system does not provide the government (SSA) with one. The taxpayers have no advocate on their behalf to ask questions, challenge medical evidence or review the 500 to 700 pages of materials that make up a typical case file. Not only that, but because of Social Security Administration policy, I am no longer allowed to order independent psychological testing to help determine whether a claimant is telling the truth.

Social Security disability courts have millions of claimants and constitute one of the world’s largest judicial systems. But the (Social Security judicial system) system is not run by anyone with real judicial experience. Instead, we are at the mercy of unelected bureaucrats whose only concern is how many cases each judge can churn out and how fast we can do it. The Social Security Administration is currently run by an acting commissioner; President Obama should appoint a permanent leader with recognized professional experience in the field of social insurance.

The Association of Administrative Law Judges AALJ), for which I serve as president, favors modernizing disability hearings so that we can give claimants a fair hearing while also protecting taxpayers. Our courtrooms ought to look more like what you see on “Law and Order” or “The Good Wife.” Each side should have an advocate, allowing judges to narrow the facts in dispute and apply the law in a neutral manner. And judges and their staff members should be able to use social media, including Facebook.

Though it is not clear from the Manhattan district attorney’s indictment if any of the claims in question ever wound up before an ALJ, it is clear than the current antiquated system handicaps the effective review of cases and encourages brazen behavior.

The system needs to be made more trustworthy and fully transparent. The actions of a few crooks must not be allowed to threaten the disability payments of millions of people who are genuinely disabled, many of whom paid into the disability insurance fund during their working lives. An adversarial system with both sides represented and all evidence on the table is the best way to root out fraud and ensure that legitimate claims are paid.(UNQUOTE)

D. Randall Frye is an administrative law judge for the United States Social Security Administration and the President of the AALJ, Association of Administrative Law Judges.

EXTRACT from the book ( “socialNsecurity, Confessions of a Social Security Judge”, published 2010, Introduction, p. 17)

..

Social Security Disability hearings are not trials. They are more in the nature of fact finding inquiries. They are presided over by an administrative law judge (ALJ), who is trained in the law. At a hearing only one side of the case is present and represented by an attorney or a paralegal. That is the claimant’s side.
If only one side of a controversy is present for the hearing, then why does the claimant need to have a judge presiding? When the Government wants to win a case, Congress designs a system that provides it with an advantage. In Immigration Hearings, the Government is represented by an attorney. When the Government is a party to a hearing before the Supreme Court, it is represented by the Solicitor General. In any other federal judicial forum where the Government has an interest, the Attorney General will ensure that the Government is adequately represented.
In Social Security Disability hearings the Government is not represented. The Government is not even present. That is probably because the system was designed to give the claimant an advantage. The case is the claimant’s case, to win or to lose. A judge is not needed to collect the medical records and listen to testimony that is not really cross-examined. The presiding officer is forced to accept the claimant’s testimony, no matter how farfetched it may be. The only evidence available to impeach the testimony of the witnesses is the evidence that the claimant provides. This could hardly be considered cross-examination.
In a trial there are usually two sides to a controversy. Each side is required to be present but may or may not be represented. A judge acts as referee to ensure that the rules of evidence and procedure are followed. There may or may not be a jury to determine the facts.
In a Social Security hearing only one side is present; that is the claimant, and his or her representative. The case is against the Government, but the Government is not present. Neither is the Government represented. That is because the system was designed to ensure that the claimant wins. After all, he is only asking for what is rightfully his. He has a social contract with the Government. He has paid his premiums in the form of payroll taxes and he is fully insured. Instead of honoring its obligations under the contract the Government first tries to delay or deny the claim. This is just plain bad faith.
(socialNsecurity, Confessions of a Social Security Judge”, published 2010, Amazon.com, Introduction, p. 17)
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