Posts Tagged With: Hearing (law)

Social Security Administration Refuses To Tell Claimants the Name of The Judge Who Will Hear Their Case

Social Security Administration Refuses To Tell Claimants The Name Of The Judge Who Will Hear Their Case
by London Steverson on Tuesday, January 1, 2013 at 9:27pm ·

Something rotten has been developing throughout 2012 in connection with assigning Social Security Administrative Law Judges (ALJ) to disability hearings. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has refused to inform the claimant and his or her representative of the identity of the judge who will be presiding at their hearing. In many SSA Hearing Offices across the USA the claimant is no longer being told the identity of the administrative law judge before the hearing. The Social Security Administration claims that certain representatives have been engaging in the clever practice of “judge shopping” or “forum shopping”.  It appears that most of the  “shopping” has taken place in the practice of video hearings. In a video hearing the claimant appears in a Hearing Room in a city near his home in front of a large television screen and the judge is in another city in another hearing room with his own television screen. The hearing is conducted by means of a video telephone conference. There is considerable speculation as to whether this practice actually constitutes due process of law. The claimant never sits in the same room with a real, living and breathing judge. Also, there has been must disagreement as to whether a judge can adequately determine the credibility and the demeanor of a witness over a television screen.

This is how “judge shopping” works.

(Read more at https://www.amazon.com/author/cgachall.blogspot.com)

When an attorney representative learns the name of the administrative law judge, he or she objects to the hearing by video if they want to get another judge assigned. Claimants try to avoid judges that have a record of denying the majority of their cases. On the other hand, they leap at the chance to try a case before a judge considered lenient. That means the judge has a reputation for granting benefits in most of his cases.

Whether you get paid early in the Social Security disability benefits process depends primarily on whether you get assigned the right ALJ. That’s right; it comes down to “the luck of the draw”. That is, unless your representative is skilled in the art of judge shopping. The most extreme types of ALJs occupy both ends of the spectrum. There are some who will reverse and grant benefits to 200 or more claimants a month without holding a hearing. They make what are called “on-the-record” decisions.

Then there are the ALJs who treat every case as a Dred Scott Decision. They over litigate the case. If they find any issue that was not disposed of by the State Disability Determination Service (DDS), they will declare that the case is not ripe for review and not ready for a hearing before an ALJ. Then they will remand the case to the DDS for a finding on that issue. Such a maneuver can add more than 6 months to the already long processing time. Or they might decide that the most recent medical examinations in the record are over one year old and order that you be examined again before scheduling a hearing. Both types of ALJs may even exist in the same hearing office.

While judge shopping is not technically something outside of the prerogatives of a claimant, the practice of shopping for the right ALJ has created havoc with the Social Security Administration’s ability to process its cases. The back log of cases waiting to be heard is long and is getting longer. Many claimants have to wait for an extended period, sometimes 5 years or more, just to sit down in front of an administrative law judge. In the past judge shopping only occurred with administrative law judges who had a low case approval rate, and attorneys and para-legal representatives tried to legally avoid them.

To fight this nuisance practice, the Social Security Administration has responded with a  “policy” of refusing to identify the ALJ until the day before or, in some cases, the day of the hearing. Some frustrated lawyers have used the FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) to request the identity of the judge. The Social Security Administration has refused citing the Act’s exemption language, and specifically citing two exemptions. The exemptions deal with personal issues and criminal proceedings.

Since no one is seeking personal data on administrative law judges (date of birth, educational history, work history, etc), and typically, Social Security Disability hearings do not involve anything remotely criminal, the exemptions are likely misplaced. Until a ruling is made on the issue, though, the administrative law judge assignment remains a mystery and a bump in the road for the Social Security Disability claimant and his or her attorney representative.

(Read more at https://www.amazon.com/author/cgachall.blogspot.com)

From a game of “Musical Chairs” to “Guess Who’s Coming To Court”. First, the claimants started to shop for the “right” judge to hear their case; then the Social Security Administration started to withhold the identity of the judge assigned the case until the day of the hearing. This would almost be comical if the stakes were not so high. The Disability Determination Process should be transparent and adhere to the highest principles of fundamental legal due process that American citizens have a right to expect from their Government. The SSA should not play ‘cat-n-mouse’ with the name of the judge. Such childish behavior does not generate respect for the legal system or the disability process.

Categories: Social Security Benefits | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Social Security Judges Under Investigation

May 1st, 2012: An independent study of administrative law judges (ALJ) who work for the Social Security Administration is underway, with findings due out next year in 2013. The review is being conducted by the Administrative Conference of the United States. This government-policy think-tank is likely to issue new policy recommendations to judges on how to handle Social Security Disability cases. These policy changes could have an impact on attorneys and para-legals, who practice before the Social Security Bar.

The Social Security Administration ordered the study. There have been reports of gross inconsistencies in rulings from judge to judge. Critics have pointed out that over 100 judges approve more than 85% of all cases that come before them, while one judge in Tennessee approves over 99% of the cases that he hears. Conversely, there is a judge in Texas who only approves 13 cases out of every 100.

Another factor which has sparked this investigation is the gross disparity in the length of hearings, that is, the time a Social Security claimant actually spends in front of a judge. After waiting for an average of 2 years for their day in court, most claimants spend less than an hour in an actual hearing. Most cases last about an hour.  Some judges were found to make snap decisions in just a few minutes. There are reports that some judges simply flip a coin to decide whether a claimant wins or loses. Since the judges do not even write their own decisions, some decision writers have complained that the judges’ decision writing instructions consist of nothing more than a “smiley face’ or a “frowning face” on a piece of paper. And the worst case of all are the reports of judges who decide over 200 cases a month without even bothering to hold a hearing. They simply “pay the cases” to get rid of them. This is called “paying down the backlog” in the language of the Social Security Office. The backlog of over 770,000 disability claimants could be a factor in the rapid decisions.

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

For years attorneys have been known to forum shop. They search for Hearing Offices that have a high degree of reversals of cases on appeal; or, they search for judges known to be more likely to grant benefits.The Social Security Administration has halted the process of informing applicants of which judge will preside over their hearings. This practice will prevent SSD attorneys from “shopping” for a lenient judge.

However, if judges become stricter in their approval standards, it could prompt more applicants to seek professional representation to increase their chances of being one of the 10,000,000 Americans who will receive their share of the $130,000,000,000 in SSD claims in 2013. This could help SSD attorneys and representatives increase their number of clients in the long run.

The recommendations that result from the study are scheduled for release in November 2012. The new procedures will be non-binding, but are geared toward refining and leveling the approval process.

Categories: Social Security Benefits, Social Security Judges | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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