Administrative Law Judges (ALJs), via their national organization, have a pending lawsuit protesting that they are under far too much pressure to produce a certain number of dispositions in a given year. The lawsuit emphasizes that this pressure indirectly yields to poor decision-making and unfairness both to the public and the taxpayers. Haste making for poor, uneven results is a recurring theme for them, and the ALJs seek relief. But how many of the ALJs, if successful, will use any spare time afforded to them to treat people with more respect and understanding?
This is an important question when people have complicated fact patterns and are often very poor, have low education levels and are mentally ill (and yes, let’s say it: often dually diagnosed). For now, far too often certain ALJs lack the life experience, perspective, compassion or will to patiently evaluate important testimony and lines of evidence. And unlike judges in other aspects of the law, such as state courts in Cook County, DuPage County, Kane County or Lake County (where the judicial conduct of judges is regularly and independently reviewed in connection with retention or election processes), Social Security Administrative Law Judges are under very little effective independent review of their demeanor, knowledge of the law, timeliness, and management of their dockets.
SSA files are filled with various statements of “activities of daily living,” for example, of the given SSA claimant, but does the ALJ have the courage, fairness and intellectual curiosity to explore beyond convenient, customary, formulaic conclusions?
The most popular question in Disability Lawyer Tom Nash’s first 15 years of hearings seemed to have been whether the beleaguered claimant could “lift” a gallon of milk. Now, in recent years, the question seems to have morphed to the more detailed, “can you lift and pour?” the gallon! But absent patience to gather meaningful testimony to explore any potential misunderstandings and learn more (whether favorable or unfavorable to the claimant) about any given line of evidence – whether it be job termination circumstances, treatment efforts/real accessibility to treatment, reliability of hasty government medical exams, or having the right expert at hearings and encouraging real cross examination – will there be respect and understanding? At Nash Disability Law, that’s what we fight for every day.