Did you know that the Commissioner of SSA issued a policy in November-December 2011 that no attorney/representative is allowed to know which ALJ is handling a hearing which is scheduled? The reason for this sudden change in secrecy surrounding hearing procedures is based upon a belief that an individual, attorney or representative will “judge shop”. In reality, an ALJ …is randomly selected at a hearing office for each case and the case cannot be removed from the assigned ALJ unless there is a conflict of interest (e.g., the rare case will be where the ALJ has a personal connection with the claimant).
Granted, no individual would be happy to know that their case was assigned to an ALJ who has a 20% approval rate as opposed to one who has an 80% approval rate. However, judge shopping is not possible unless the individual moves to another state or withdraws the case they have already spent 1-2 years appealing and re-files a new application.
This policy’s only effect is to whittle away at an individual’s due process hearing rights. If an individual or his attorney/representative is unable to fully prepare, it may clearly impact on the outcome of the case. For example, an attorney / representative may know that certain ALJ’s like a brief opening statement, some like all questioning done by the attorney, some may not be willing to subpoena all the records, and some may not allow witness testimony. There are many other variables that an experienced attorney/representative would prepare for prior to the hearing based upon knowing which ALJ is handling a case. One is left to wonder what motivation the SSA Commissioner might have had other than to effectuate a greater number of unfavorable ALJ decisions. This writer feels that there is no other plausible explanation for such an unreasonable policy.
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