Aug 25, 2016

The Biggest Doofus

     Eric Conn is facing a malpractice lawsuit filed on behalf of a class of 1,487 of his former Social Security clients. It's been going on for some time now. However, as of a few days ago, Conn still hadn't notified his malpractice insurance carrier, even though he was facing a hearing on the case.  I know that if you're facing criminal prosecution some civil things might fall between the cracks, but this is still hard to fathom.
    If you want to think that all Social Security attorneys are crooks and that Conn just got caught, I can't stop you, but I can tell you that everything about the Conn fiasco seems incredibly weird to me. I have trouble believing the allegation of bribery because the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) he is alleged to have bribed was approving almost all claims anyway, not just for Conn's clients but for everyone's clients. Why bribe a man to do something he was going to do anyway? I have trouble believing that an ALJ would be able to assign to himself large numbers of one lawyer's cases and then approve them. That couldn't be hidden and is so obviously improper that there would be many people who would send complaints up the line. It would be like making a daily trip to a Walmart store, picking up a big screen TV and walking out the door with it without stopping to pay for it. You might get lucky and get away with that for a day or two but not day after day. There would be too many people watching. We'll see how the prosecution goes but as I've said before, to me Conn looks more like a doofus than a criminal mastermind. His failure to notify his malpractice insurance carrier is more proof of how big a doofus he is.


Anonymous said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it has already established in the Congressional report and elsewhere that an ALJ was able to assign to himself large numbers of one lawyer's cases and then approve them.

It wasn't hidden. And although it was indeed so obviously improper that people sent complaints up the line, the complaints and information were ignored.

Why did management ignore the complaints and information? They haven't answered that question clearly but it might have had something to do with the fact that they didn't care as long as the backlog was going down. They only seemed to start paying any attention once the WSJ started exposing the situation.

Anonymous said...

Don't waste time trying to explain by logic what could more readily be explained by an individual's greed and/or stupidity. The good news is they did catch it, so the system did ultimately work in that respect. The aftermath for the innocent claimants certainly could have been handled better.

Tim said...

SSA stood there and watched horse after horse leave the barn and did nothing to stop it, until the media showed up to say,"You're letting all the horses out!" Then, instead of blaming the gatekeeper (ALJ), SSA blamed the stable boy (feeds the horses) and the horses. Then, SSA decided to beat the horses instead of the gatekeeper and his supervisors. Not the best analogy, but you get the point.

Anonymous said...

I can't stress this enough--so many of the dumb things ODAR does are due to one fact that isn't mentioned a lot here: ALJs haven't been meaningfully managed in almost any way for decades.

Why are the low payer jerks not dealt with? It isn't because there's some conspiracy by the top brass to pay less to save the US government money. Do you know how many times I've seen or heard ANY significant mention of the cost of benefits we pay? None. Nobody in SSA cares because it doesn't come out of our budget. I take that back--when they rolled back Senior Attorney signatory authority it was blamed on the chief actuary being very concerned with all the suspicious pays and what that might do to the trust fund. Aside from that, it has never been on the radar.

The real reason why those ALJs aren't dealt with: because they do 500 or so dispositions, write decent enough instructions that satisfy the low bar that is substantial evidence, and stay just shy of the line of egregious behavior that might warrant discipline or removal. That's exactly what is going on with so many of our terrible judges.

Now I know a lot of you are thinking, "but what about all those high payers that were pushed out or are still being harassed or lowered their pay rates?!" First, we didn't have then and don't have now nearly the number of egregiously low payers that we did egregiously high payers. Back before Huntington, there were dozens of ALJs whose pay rates were 90+%, maybe even that many who were 95+%. We have never had nearly as many ALJs who paid a similarly-extremely low 10% or fewer cases. Also, like I said above, many of our low payers write detailed instructions and satisfy substantial evidence. Wanna guess what the instructions for those 90+% payers' decisions looked like? Finally, SSA didn't care about the payouts, but Congress very much did. After Huntington broke and knowing the makeup of our House and Senate, which story do you think would be sensationalized and pursued: that SSA was giving away money willy nilly or that some disabled folks were probably being denied wrongfully? SSA top brass aren't idiots and like to survive, so they placated Congress.

I hate to sound like I'm only bashing ALJs. There is plenty of blame to go around from top to bottom, most of which lands squarely on Congress' feet for failing to give us the money we need to keep up with our increasing workload. But so often in these comments I see reps and other outsiders musing about the hows and whys of things and coming up with grand conspiracy theories when really a lot of that just boils down to "SSA's ALJs are essentially untouchable." If you keep that fact in mind more often, a lot more of what you see will make sense.