The Social Security Administration (SSA) recently instituted a policy that it will no longer provide prior notification of the Administrative Law Judge assigned to preside over an applicant’s social security disability hearing. The new ruling, which took effect December 19, 2011, has been met with much criticism among social security disability professionals.
The ruling may have been a response to certain attorneys declining video hearings for out-of-area hearings in those cases when the ALJ tended to have a lower granting rate than other ALJs. The purpose of offering video hearings is to increase efficiency and allow for quicker resolution of applications and hearings. Claimants and their attorneys may decline a video hearing, however, and it appears that some claimants or attorneys were declining video hearings for the sole reason that the ALJ assigned to the video hearing granted fewer claims than other ALJs. In response, the SSA decided to withhold the name of the ALJ assigned to the claim prior to the hearing itself in order to prevent claimants and their attorneys from shopping around for a favorable judge.
Unfortunately, the SSA’s ruling may have the effect of increasing inefficiency by removing the ability to adequately prepare for the social security disability hearing. Attorneys can prepare more efficiently for a social security disability hearing if he or she knows the ALJ who will be presiding over the hearing and understands the preferences and procedures of a particular judge.
In fact, the National Organization of Social Security Claims Representatives (NOSSCR) submitted a complaint letter to the SSA on December 21, 2011 expressing its concerns over the SSA’s new policy to withhold the name of the ALJ assigned to a claim until the hearing. In its letter the NOSSCR stated:
“Concealing the identity of the judge is almost unheard of in a judicial system in a democracy. The identity of the judge is always known in other systems. Keeping the judge’s identity secret is unacceptable. The very important due process right of claimants to prepare to present evidence supporting their claim is eroded by maintaining secrecy of the judge to whom their case has been assigned. Each judge has personal strengths and needs, and knowing the judge helps the representative provide what the judge needs to accurately evaluate the claim.”
The NOSSCR letter goes on to cite the following specific problems with the SSA’s new policy:
- Impairment of claimant’s rights under SSA regulations.
- Practical problems with implementation pertaining to subpoenas
- Scheduling problems
- Inability of attorneys to adequate prepare for hearing
- Inability of attorneys to adequately prepare their clients for the hearing
At Ankin Law, LLC, our knowledgeable Chicago social security disability attorneys have years of experience representing clients at social security disability hearings. Contact us at (312) 481-6405 to schedule a free consultation with one of our knowledgeable Chicago social security attorneys to learn more about what to expect at a social security hearing.