Feb 14, 2013

"Secret ALJ" Policy On Its Last Legs

     For months, Social Security has been withholding the identity of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) scheduled to hold a hearing until the day of the hearing. This "secret ALJ" policy is on its last legs. The agency has been unable to defend the "secret ALJ" policy in court -- and I mean literally unable to defend the policy. Social Security has to work through the U.S. Attorneys when it is sued and the U.S. Attorneys are refusing to defend Social Security on Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits on this issue, not that the agency had much of a defense anyway. Social Security is now revealing the identity of ALJs scheduled to hold hearings to claimants and their attorneys who file FOIA requests. The National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) advised its members of this fact yesterday afternoon. It can only be anticipated that Social Security's Office of Privacy and Disclosure (which handles FOIA requests) will be deluged with FOIA requests which are easily made online.
     Michael Astrue is gone. There is no reason to continue this failed policy a day longer.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why so much angst toward the policy? Why is it so important to know the identity of an independent, objective arbiter ahead of time? Isn't justice blind? Please explain.

Anonymous said...

Our office received that e-mail yesterday. We will now file FOIA requests on every hearing file. However, this still doesn't solve the problem we have in scheduling hearings under the "mystery ALJ" policy. We are not able to maximize our hearing schedules when the ALJ identity is withheld. We have to work under the assumption that all hearings will run late/long (as is the common practice of some ALJs), forcing us to not agree to some proposed hearing dates that we might otherwise fit in our hearing calendar. Obviously, this just adds to the hearing backlong. This policy needs to go!

Anonymous said...

But why should it matter who the judge is in a non-adversarial forum? Why is there such an urgent need to know?

Anonymous said...

Not knowing who the ALJ will be makes the proceeding more adversarial. Think of the claimant who has waited months or years to finally get their hearing. Many are in danger of losing their homes and are existing on food stamps. They're anxious and upset about being denied once or twice before. I then have to tell them that SSA will not allow them to know the name of the Judge that will be making this very important decision in their life until we walk into the room. It just adds to the mistrust. Why keep it a secret?

It also doesn't allow me to properly prepare the claimant or the case. Judges all operate differently: some ask the questions while others let the attorneys speak. Some work off a script and take an hour and half while others get to the point and have 10 minute hearings. Some want briefs while others do not. Some will focus on exertional impairments while others stress nonexertional impairments. Some ALJs insist on RFCs while others won't read them. If I know the name of the ALJ ahead of time, I can let the claimant know what to expect while being able to properly present the case to that particular decision maker.

Anonymous said...

@ 1:36

If you, the rep, prepared for each case ASSUMING that the ALJ you were going to have was the most demanding ALJ in the agency, would not all of what you described be irrelavent???

All knowing the ALJ is advance does is :

(1) makes it more likely you'll decline a video hearing from the hearing center of low paying ALJs

(2) lets you, the rep, do less work obtaining records + coaching-leading the claimant, when you know that you've been assigned one of the (many)ALJs who pay pretty much anyone who walks in the door.

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 1:51,

Nailed it. Close the comments.

Anonymous said...

@ 1:51, yep

Anonymous said...

@1:51. Where can I find these ALJs who pay anybody who walks in the door? The new joke is that if your client can actually walk into court, you don't have a good case.

Anonymous said...

We are driven by medical evidence of record. You should obtain such evidnece and get it into the record. If there is no such evidence, we are constrained to find the claimant not disabled. This isn't magic or arbitrary. Our Regulations clearly define what is needed for a finding of disability and it's your job to provide that information and documentation at the hearing. Otehrwise you are wasting the office and Judge's time when they could be hearing a truly disabled case. If you are losing cases, you are either not prepared and haven't prepared the record, or the claimant is not disabled. QED??

Social Security News said...

I'm closing this thread down before it gets out of hand. Regardless of what you may think of the "secret ALJ" policy it can't continue much longer without causing serious disruption at Social Security. That's just a fact.