The “so-called” scandal in the Madison, Wisconsin Social Security Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, SSA/ODAR, is disturbing. I believe that Judge John H. Pleuss’ is getting a raw deal.
I have some thoughts on the matter. At the end of this Blog post I have posted the article written by M. D. Kittle. Please read the article after I offer my comments. I have considerable experience in these matters.
This is an invasion of Judge John H. Pleuss’ privacy. I express no opinion concerning the Judge’s remarks in his personal notes. Some may find them inappropriate, and some may not. However, the Judge has an “expectation of privacy” in his personal notes and observations.
The Social Security Administration encourages the Judges to keep a “Private File” of notes to refer to when deciding a disability case. The notes help the Judge to refresh his recollection of the claimant and of the Hearing when he goes back to make a decision on the case. The File is separate from the Claimant’s Disability File. They should not be discoverable under the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA).
The Disability Hearings are private, unless the claimant consents to strangers sitting in on the Hearing. The Judges’ personal notes from the Hearing should also be private.
The disability evaluation process is a “high volume’ business. A Judge must hear 50 to 75 cases a month in order to produce an average of 50 to 60 decisions a month. There are no pictures of the claimant in the case files. All judges scribble notes and memory joggers in order to try to remember the claimant later when they review the file. Credibility weighs heavy in the decision making process. A Judge must conjure up a recollection of the claimant to properly dispose of the case. One Judge’s characterization of the person who appeared before them may be different from another. His job is not to flatter the claimant, but to remember who he or she was. There is nothing in Judge Pleuss’ notes that is grounds for adverse action against him.
If you notice all of the cited comments refer to women; and women, only. Normally that would cause one to think that the ALJ is obsessed with women or female claimants. But, I have a better explanation, and it has nothing to do with the ALJ.
I contend that this incident raises serious questions about the fitness of the Decision Writers in Judge Pleuss’ Hearing Office. Judges do not write their own decisions. There are professional Decision writers in each Hearing Office. Lawyers and Para-legal writers draft a proposed decision based on the ALJ’s Hearing Notes. The ALJ modifies, amends, and approves a final draft.
First, if a Decision Writer has passed on to the Civilian Managers in the Hearing Office Judge Pleuss’ personal notes, that would be unethical and disloyal. We need look no further than the Decision Writers and Management to see what is happening here.
There has always been tension and friction between between the ALJ Corps and civilian managers, all the way up to the Commissioner in Baltimore, Maryland.
On several occasions the AALJ, the Judges’ Union, has lobbied Congress to remove the ALJ Corps from under the authority, supervision, and management of the SSA civilian managers.
Yes, there is a Culture of Corruption here; but, it starts in Baltimore, Maryland at the Office of the Commissioner and the Office of the Chief Administrative Law Judge; and it reaches down to the lowest level. And it is most malignant at the Hearing Office Director (HOD) and Decision Writers level.
Many of the Decision Writers suffer from mild mental disorders. They tend towards Melancholia. They are frustrated, and they bicker and complain. Some tend to be trouble makers.
Many, I have noticed, appear to be envious of the Judges. They resent that the ALJ hears the cases, but they, the writers, have to do the leg work of writing the decision. They work in the dark, behind closed doors, and get little or no credit. This tends to generate friction and resentment.
The worst of the lot are the male homosexual writers. And there are many. There were two in my office for almost 20 years. We had only six writers and the two males were homosexuals.
They are prone to hysterics. They are easily agitated, often for no discernible reason. I was discussing a draft decision with one once and, out of the blue, he became agitated and screamed at me. I was shocked. I did not know what I should do. Do I discipline him, or what? I did nothing, because there are so many of them and they are well placed. Also, the Hearing Office Chief Judges tends to protect them. So, I just let it go.
All of which brings me back to my original point. This is just the type of hanky-panky that male homosexual writers would start. This is how they operate. I know from experience. I spent about 20 years in a Hearing Office and I saw just about every kind of dirty office shenanigans that one could imagine.
The tip-off is that they only mentioned remarks about women. Anyone who has ever had to work with male homosexuals in a legal office or other closed community would notice that. It is a dead give-away.
All of this will probably turn out to be nothing more than a tempest in a tea pot.
Here is the article.
Social Security judge suspended in wake of Madison scandal.
Wisconsin Watchdog has learned that Administrative Law Judge John Pleuss’ hearings in recent days have been canceled amid a looming Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General investigation into the Madison Office of Disability and Adjudication Review, or ODAR.
Asked whether Pleuss had been suspended, an office employee who answered the phone Thursday June 16would say only that Pleuss was out of the office. So, too, was Office Director Laura Hodorowicz. Asked whether Hodorowicz had been suspended, the employee said, “I can’t answer that,” but that the director is “out today, too.”
Neither Pleuss nor Hodorowicz returned calls from Wisconsin Watchdog seeking comment.
Sources close to the situation say Administrative Law Judge John Pleuss appears to have been suspended as an investigation looms into allegations of misconduct at the Madison Office of Disability Adjudication and Review. Doug Nguyen, spokesman for the Social Security Administration’s Chicago Region, did not return an email seeking comment. ‘Culture of corruption and cover-up’
Wisconsin Watchdog first reported last week about new charges of “pervasive” sexual harassment, bribery and nepotism coming to light at the Madison ODAR facility. These accusations came on top of previous allegations of misconduct, harassment, and whistleblower retaliation at both the Madison and Milwaukee disability claims review offices.
“There is a culture of corruption and cover-up, and that goes all the way to the top,” said an ODAR employee with knowledge of the situation. The staff member spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.
Wisconsin Watchdog obtained internal documents showing what employees have described as “highly inappropriate” comments Pleuss has made about claimants appearing before him.
“Young, white (female); attractive brunette,” Pleuss wrote under “Initial Observations” in official hand-written hearing notes. The claimants’ names and other personal information have been redacted.
“Young, white (female); long brown hair; attractive; looks innocent,” the ALJ wrote.
He described another claimant as “buxom,” and noted that a “young, white (woman) looks like a man.”
“Obese, young, white (female) skimpy black top,” he wrote of another claimant.
“Very black, African looking (female),” the ALJ wrote, and parenthetically he added,“(actually a gorilla-like appearance).”
In one document, Pleuss wrote, “I’ll pay this lady when hell freezes over!”
Pleuss is one of six administrative law judges at the Madison office. He has been the subject of an internal investigation into sexual harassment allegations, according to multiple sources.
The employee who spoke to Wisconsin Watchdog on condition of anonymity said Pleuss has acquired a reputation as “being sexually inappropriate.”
“It truly has become a national running joke,” the staff member said.
But there is nothing funny about the charge by those familiar with the administrative law judge and the “toxic environment” of the Madison office that Pleuss has approved or rejected disability claims based on “how sexy he thought the claimant was,” the employee said.
The insider claims “sexual harassment of staff is pervasive and ongoing” in the Madison office. Other sources have told Wisconsin Watchdog as much.
A disability claims attorney told Wisconsin Watchdog this week that there has been concern for some time about Pleuss’ conduct. The attorney said cases that seemed strong were denied, while weaker cases were approved.
“This issue may explain a lot about that inconsistency,” the attorney said. “Given your reports, I will now be able to raise issues involving females. It should be interesting since I will be asking for copies of his notes on every denial. I’m sure that request will be denied and I may end up asking federal district court to issue orders for the release of the documents.”
The ODAR employee who spoke to Wisconsin Watchdog said the SSA offices in Milwaukee and Madison are “extremely hostile work environments for whistleblowers.” They also are closely connected by the same administrative players in the Chicago ODAR Region.
Reward and punishment
ODAR whistleblowers have told Wisconsin Watchdog that they have repeatedly been subject to retaliation and intimidation for reporting waste, abusive behavior and other misconduct in their government offices.
Less than a month after Ron Klym was featured in a Watchdog.org special investigation, the senior case technician at the Milwaukee Office of Disability Adjudication and Review was told the agency that has employed him for 16 years is proposing to fire him.
Klym detailed the Milwaukee office’s growing backlog of cases. Wisconsin Watchdog obtained records of some of the more lengthy delays.
More problematic is what Klym calls the administrative “shell game.” He said the Milwaukee office’s case disposition numbers have at times drastically improved because managers in the chain have dumped off scores of cases to other regional offices.
(NOTE: This is not new. This was happening before 1990. Shell Games. Paying Down The Backlog. See https://www.amazon.com/socialNsecurity-Confessions-Social-Security-Judge/dp/1449569757?ie=UTF8&ref_=asap_bc )
Multiple sources have told Wisconsin Watchdog that, Hodorowicz, director of the Madison office, protects Pleuss and others in her inner circle.
The employee who spoke on condition of anonymity said Hodorowicz is fond of making “dirty backroom deals,” offering “cooperative” employees perks in the form of financial benefits and special privileges to maintain their loyalty and above all –silence — about misconduct in the office.
Eventually, the office director runs out of sweeteners, the employee said.
“When that happens , the threats begin. … She will threaten people’s jobs, tell them she won’t promote them, lower their performance reviews, say that she will give them a bad reference,” the insider said. “She will give them the worst work assignments in the office.”
Wisconsin Watchdog has obtained emails sent by Hodorowicz that appear to be threatening in nature.
Multiple employees say the office director has been the subject of several investigations into her conduct, in Madison and when she held the same position in Milwaukee. Each time, they say, her cadre of loyalists testify on her behalf. And, sources say, they are rewarded for their loyalty.
And a Madison office staff member said Hodorowicz has taken nepotism to a new level.
Wisconsin Watchdog reported Monday that Office of Inspector General agents are opening an investigation into the Madison office, particularly focusing on Pleuss, Hodorowicz, and Wayne Gentz, a group supervisor considered to be a Hodorowicz ally.
Also this week, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., sent a formal letter to the Social Security Administration requesting the agency’s “unfettered cooperation” in turning over information related to allegations of misconduct and retaliation in SSA’s disability claims review offices.
“I write to you concerning reports of whistleblower retaliation within the Milwaukee and Madison hearing offices of the Social Security Administration’s Office of Disability Adjudication and Review,” Johnson wrote in the letter to Carolyn Colvin, SSA’s acting commissioner.
Johnson, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, has been trying to get answers from the SSA since a staff-level briefing on May 9.
By M.D. Kittle