Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Social Security Hearings Offices institute a new secrecy policy

NOSSCR, the national organization of social security claimant's representatives, has reported on a new policy being adopted by ODAR, the office of disability adjudication and review, collectively known as the social security hearing offices. Apparently, the identify of the ALJ, or administrative law judge, will be kept a secret until the hearing--from the claimant's as well as their representatives. This seems very odd, of course.

As the NOSSCR letter to the Social Security Commissioner, Michael Astrue, points out, if you don't know the name of the judge in advance, who do you send a subpoena request to? How do you prepare for the idiosyncracies and habits of a particular judge since, as the letter further points out, some judges will require medication records while others won't, and some ALJs will focus on specific testing results while others will not. The end result may be the addition of a delaying effect to the hearing process.

Additionally, many disability attorneys and disability representatives will schedule hearings based on their prior knowledge of how long a certain judge's hearings tend to last. Taking this foreknowledge away will mean that a rep will have to assume the worst, scheduling fewer hearings per day, thus slowing down the progression of their entire hearing level caseload.

One can only speculate as to why this policy is being promulgated. Certainly one thing that comes to mind is recent reporting on hearing outcomes with regard to specific judges, i.e. that small percentage of judges whose decisions fall considerably outside the norms.

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