The Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODARS) is the social security administration office that conducts all administrative hearings on social social security disability appeals. A disability claimant has an absolute right to appear before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) once they timely appeal a reconsideration decision. “Going before the Judge” is usually the most important event in a social security disability claim.
For the last several decades social security disability claimants would receive a Notice of Hearing at least 20 days before the hearing date signed by the Administrative Law Judge that would be holding the hearing. In my practice area of North Texas the 3 ODARS offices had adopted the practice of providing case status reports to my office on a monthly or quarterly basis. These reports would indicate which ALJ was assigned to the case.
An attorney or claimant has no choice in what Administrative Law Judge they are assigned to. Yet, now the powers at ODARS have decided that allowing social security disability attorneys and representatives to know the identity of the ALJ on cases encourages “judge shopping”. Now hearing notices do not indicate what ALJ will be hearing the case: we will not know until arriving at the hearing.
For the life of me, I cannot see how under the existing policy “judge shopping” would happen. My social security disability attorney collegues Charles T. Hall of North Carolina and Gordon Gates of Maine believe this “judge shopping” has been possible under the remote video hearing program: only certain ALJs are doing video hearings and an attorney can refuse a video hearing, at which time the case is reassigned to another ALJ. In my area of practice in Texas I am seeing almost no remote site video hearings. Attorney Hall correctly points out that the number of ALJ hearings conducted via remote site video is very small. http://socsecnews.blogspot.com/2011_12_01_archive.html.
Attorney Hall is not particularly concerned about this new policy. I agree, however, with attorney Gates that this unnecessary secretiveness will have a detrimental effect on efficiency. http://www.socialsecuritydisabilitylawyer.us/blog/2011/12/alj-unknown.html.
Every social security disability attorney knows that there are wide differences in what each ALJ wants to hear about and emphasize in reviewing a disability claim. They are of course applying the same laws and regulations, but I have learned over the years to be prepared on the key issues that my experience has taught me particular ALJs want to know. Any time ODARS alters the manner in which they process claims there is a lose in efficiency as staff adapted to new policy.
In my 20 years of handling only social security disability claims in North Texas, Dallas and Fort Worth, I have seen a fair number of boneheaded ODARs policies. Since I know all the judges in the Dallas Fort Worth area, I will be able to adapt to this one to continue to provide high quality social security representation.