Have you even been punished for something you didn’t do? Parents and teachers have been guilty of the punish-everybody-for-the-misdeeds-of-a-few since … well, forever. Sometimes it works. The undesired behavior is eliminated, and the authority figure can pat themselves on the back for a job well done. Other times, the punishment is so ill-conceived that one Michigan attorney who should be in bed, is sitting at his kitchen table after midnight writing about how overreaching the punishment is.
December 19, 2011 marks the first day that the Social Security Administration unrolls a new policy of not informing attorneys or claimants of the judge assigned to hear a disability case until the day of the hearing. The policy has been lovingly dubbed the Mystery ALJ Policy. The news was leaked on the internet last week and the policy was later confirmed by multiple Social Security employees.
This policy is a disaster. I really expect attorneys to be outraged by this. Here’s why. I prepare each and every case to the individual preferences of the judge assigned. Just like writing a term paper in college, or giving a presentation to a large group of people, the first rule is know your audience. Some judges like a written brief, some judges ignore them; some judges like to hear from witnesses, some judges do not; some judges run on time, some are not; most judges are reasonable, some are not.
Is this not the age of open and transparent government? During President Obama’s first full day in office, he signed an Executive Order that laughably begins with the following statement:
“A democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires transparency. As Justice Louis Brandeis wrote, ‘sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.’”
The President went on to say, according to one article:
“My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government.”
This new Social Security policy is toxic – it needs some sunlight. From what I understand, the brilliant policy came from high above, with no input requested from Social Security employees, judges, or attorneys. It was basically a knee-jerk reaction to a few idiots who figured out how to game the system by getting certain judges assigned to their cases.
Withholding important information from claimants and their attorneys is certainly against the promise of governmental openness.