Just this past December, I wrote a post on this blog discussing the online resources available for claimants and disability lawyers to research Social Security judges assigned to their cases. Earlier this year, SSA instituted a new policy where the identity of the judge is hidden to claimants and lawyers until the day of your hearing.
The stated reason for this new policy is supposed abuse by some lawyers who were advising their clients to dismiss cases and move to a different jurisdiction when certain judges were assigned. In order to stop this “judge shopping” the identity of the judge is kept secret.
I find this new policy asinine for any number of reasons. First, as a claimant’s representative I have an affirmative duty to prepare my clients for their hearings. A big part of preparing for hearings involves preparing for the judge assigned to one’s case.
- Some judges ask a lot of questions, some judges ask almost no questions.
- Some judges go out of their way to make claimants comfortable while others take on the role of an advocate for Social Security and challenge the claimant.
- Some judges always use vocational expert witnesses and others do not
I have no particular issue with any of these approaches but I do have a problem not being able to prepare my client about what to expect. From my client’s perspective, they have likely never been in front of a Social Security judge and they will be nervous. Why not enhance the chances that a judge can get accurate and thoughtful information instead of playing silly games because a few lawyers somewhere advised their clients to delay the adjudication of their cases because of a particular judge.
Further, while I have never advised a client to dismiss a case because a particular judge was assigned, I don’t necessarily have a problem with doing so because as attorneys, we have an obligation to serve as zealous advocates for our clients. Social Security has a problem – the approval rates by judges in the same hearing office can vary widely. Judge go to DisabilityJudges.com, pick a jurisdiction and look for yourself. In just about every hearing office you will see approval rates ranging from 25% to 80%. This means that two claimants with the exact same case will get vastly different results based on the judge randomly assigned to their cases.
If you knew that Judge “A” only approved 30% of claims and you also knew that Judge “A” rarely approved fibromyalgia cases, would you now want your lawyer to advise you of all available options – including moving to another town – so that you would have a fair shot at winning?
Similarly as a taxpayer, I don’t think our nation is well served when judges approve cases filed by non-deserving claimants.
Rather than playing games with the identify of judges, Social Security ought to spend its time analyzing the wide disparity of approval rates among judges in the same hearing office and either retrain or dismiss judges whose approval/disapproval rate falls significantly outside the norm.