Don’t be surprised if you hear snoring coming from the offices of two of the Council’s hardest working paralegals, Kate Miller and Dale Green. They’ve each had two Social Security hearings in the past week — and Kate has another one scheduled for next week. If you’ve ever had to represent someone at a Social Security hearing, you know the gargantuan amount of work that goes into preparing to face the judge.
But here’s the truly goofy thing: in three of the four hearings, the judges already had everything they needed to make a decision in the case. They didn’t need to drag Kate, Dale and their clients to their offices in the first place.
1) Last week Dale went to a hearing with a 28-year-old client who suffered from mental retardation. A few weeks before the hearing Dale had submitted a brief to the judge, outlining the reasons that his client’s disability claim should be approved based upon the available medical evidence. “When we sat down in front of the judge, the first thing she said to me was, ‘Oh, this is such a great brief.’ And I’m thinking, ‘OK, then why do any of us need to be here?'” The judge asked Dale a few procedural questions and then approved the client’s disability claim.
2) Yesterday the same thing happened again — except this time Dale’s client hadn’t even shown up. “The hearing was scheduled for 10am,” Dale says, “and I had been calling my client from the hearing office every few minutes since 9:30. She never answered. Finally at 10 she called and said that the person who was supposed to drive her to the hearing never showed up, and she was on the bus about 20 minutes away.” At 10:25 the client still hadn’t arrived, and the judge’s assistant told Dale that the judge wanted to speak to him. So Dale went into the hearing room, to find that the judge was staring at him from a huge video screen. “It was a video hearing,” he says. “And he’s in California, watching me from inside this big television.” The judge asked Dale a few questions, then said that all the records Dale had submitted were enough for him to approve the case right then and there. “So I called my client, told her to get off the bus and get on the next bus going back to her home.”
3) Last week Kate was putting the finishing touches on the argument she’d make at the Social Security hearing she had scheduled for the next day. Weeks before she’d submitted a brief to the judge asking that the case be approved based on the medical records she’d submitted. But with no response from the judge’s office, she kept working to be ready for the hearing. Then the phone rang. “The judge called, said she’d read my brief, and she was going to approve the case and cancel the hearing,” Kate explains. Great news for the client, of course. Bad news that Kate had done tons of work getting ready for the hearing.
4) Yesterday Kate had a Social Security hearing, representing a client with organic brain disorder brought on by years of heavy crystal meth use. This time, the hearing actually went forward. “We had a big problem, that there were a lot of inconsistencies in the medical records,” Kate says. “You see, the client has such a low level of comprehension that he often doesn’t understand what medical providers are really asking him. So he gives answers that he thinks will please them. They’ll ask him, ‘Do you have trouble concentrating?’ And he’ll say no. He’ll say no to everything because he thinks that’s what the doctors want him to say.” Fortunately Kate was able to convince the judge, as well as the medical expert at the hearing, that her client’s inconsistent answers were not evidence of “malingering” but concrete examples of the very cognitive impairments that would prevent him from being able to work. She won the hearing.
So feel free to send Kate and Dale flowers and candy. Oh, and maybe gift certificates for full-body massages.