Feb 23, 2012

I'm Shocked! Shocked!

     From a press release issued by Sam Johnson, Chairman of the House Social Security Subcommittee:
Recently, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued the first of two reports looking at Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) who are outliers because of the number of cases they have or have not handled or the number of awards they have handed out. ... The request was made in the wake of a Wall Street Journal article exposing the practices of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in a West Virginia hearing office who granted awards in 1,280 of the 1,284 disability cases he decided.  
“As Chair of the Social Security Subcommittee, I am extremely troubled by the enormous freedom this ALJ had in assigning himself cases – and then rubberstamping approval for nearly all of them with no accountability or oversight,” said Sam Johnson (R-TX). 

“This report is a real eye opener.  How can we trust the fairness of ALJ decisions when even some of their own co-workers say that the decisions could be influenced by the ALJ’s own political views and personal biases?  While ALJs must be free to do their jobs without agency interference or reprisal, they are supposed to follow the rules, not make their own.  The Subcommittee’s hearing series on securing the future of the disability insurance program will ask the tough questions and seek the right answers in order to ensure that the public is served fairly and that precious taxpayer dollars are not wasted,” added Chairman Johnson.  

     Political views and personal biases affecting judicial decisions! I'm shocked! Shocked!
     Let me let Representative Johnson in on a secret that lawyers don't generally share with laypeople. There is no judge whose decisions are completely unaffected by their political views and personal biases. This is especially the case when judges make decisions in cases where there is no clear cut "right" answer. This is more visible in Social Security disability cases because they are unusually difficult to judge.
     The same problem is also quite visible at the U.S. Supreme Court. I think that Representative Johnson is quite happy with political views and personal biases affecting judicial decisions when it's, let's say, Justice Scalia or Justice Thomas making the decisions.
     In any case, I don't know what report Representative Johnson was reading. The one I read didn't show anything that would shock anyone familiar with Social Security disability hearings. I was under the impression that there wasn't anything like a bombshell in the report.


Anonymous said...

I think the general public would be shocked to know that 70% of claimants are paid at the hearing level.

Jen said...

I think the average person would not understand the full scale implications of that report and the hidden meanings within it.

Anonymous said...

Was this right after Represenative Johnson recived a check from a lobbyist for his reelection campaign? Or did Maj. Schwarmer insist on it? Possibly this is the beginning of a "Beautify friendship"? But we will always have Paris!

Anonymous said...

Actually, the approval rate continues to steadily decline as the number of claims has increased during the recession. When dismissals are included, the rates in FY12 through January are 49% favorable, 34% unfavorable and 16% dismissals.

Anonymous said...

It's true that judges decisions are affected by their political views and personal biases. The big problem today is that people think this is "ok" and that it is not important for judges to put aside their own views and rule based on the law.

Judges are basically becoming Senators and Representatives in black robes. A friend of mine, a lawyer, told me considers the Supreme Court just another chamber of Congress like the Senate.

Santa Monica attorney said...

Ever since, disability benefits are difficult to claim, not to mention to win. ALJs are stereotyped as people who are "trigger happy" or people who want to deny disabled people who are claiming for benefits.

If it is true that some ALJs do not handle cases as expected, then you should be penalized.

Anonymous said...

Political bias at the federal court level is fine with me. Especially the Supreme Court, where they deal with unprecedented questions with no answers in the case law. But admin decisions are supposed to follow a strict set of rules and regulations. There should be little room for discretion, and no room for political bias. I blame OPM for devising a system that selects Perry Mason litigators as "non-adversarial" medical evaluators.

Anonymous said...

And what, precisely, is the law to be followed by ALJs? Should they follow statutory law and court interpretations? should they follow the regulations? Should they follow Agency policy both officially announced and unannounced? There is a significant amount of difference between these things.
Should ALJs follow the unannounced prior (before Huntington)policy of numbers, numbers, numbers to pay the backlog down?
Denials should be increasing but not because Sen. Johnson's eyes have been opened; as chronically unemployed people file for disability to get some, any money, there are more simply ridiculous claims coming to ALJs.
These one sided OIG reports and legeslative hearings pose great opportunity to harm the system even more.

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