The Wall Street Journal published an article today, December 15, 2011 entitled "Disability- Benefits Center Faces Review." The article addresses concerns about the federal disability system and the quality of its decision-making process, noting the great disparity amongst different Administrative Law Judge's award and denial statistics. To address these concerns an independent review has been commissioned to review the federal system and the work of the 1500 Administrative Law Judges hearing cases across the country. The review along with recommendations (that will not be binding) is expected to be completed next year.
The most immediate change addressed in the article is that beginning next week Social Security plans to stop letting both claimants and their representatives know which judge has been assigned to their case. This is being done in an attempt to stop representatives from trying to influence which judge will be assigned to their case. At Doherty, Cella, Keane LLP, we have always used the information regarding which judge assignment to appropriately prepare for our clients' hearings. Most judges have their own set of preferences/rules, in areas such as witness testimony, opening and closing statements, pre-hearing brief format and allowing observers. In addition, knowing the judge and their particular style can help us better prepare the claimant for what they should expect during the hearing, and giving them this information can help alleviate any concerns or stress they may feel as the hearing approaches.
As this change is implemented we will continue to call ODAR to try and obtain the name of the judge; however, if we are unable to obtain this information it will not effect the expert preparation or delivery of our case. We do not expect this will influence our outcomes to any degree, but rather just provide less opportunity to cater our individual hearings to particular judges preferences ahead of time. We do expect that this change will likely elicit a largely negative response among not only the public and their representatives, but also among the judges and their administrative staff. At Doherty, Cella, Keane our initial response is that this change is likely to eventually be reversed.
Please contact Barbara Mountain at Doherty, Cella, Keane LLP if you have any additional questions. Please note clicking on the title of the blog will link you to the WSJ article.