ANALYSIS: Social Security Judge on Leave after Wall Street Journal Article on Approval Percentage; Fellow Journalist Criticizes WSJ Article

Edited by Tony Rutherford from Multiple Reports

HUNTINGTON, WV (HNN) – A former Cabell County Circuit Judge and current Administrative Law Judge has been placed on leave with pay after a Wall Street Journal revealed his high percentage of case approvals.

Although the article cited the high approval rating of Huntington Administrative Law Judge David Daugherty , an investigation from Delaware published at the end of 2008 prompts a flag of concern. Despite the high approvals for Huntington by Judge Daugherty, the Charleston, WV office in the years 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 had denial rates less than half of the Huntington office.

Charleston, WV processed 17,394 cases during the period and 2,058 were unfavorable. That’s 12.03% (2005); 12.41% (2006); 12.57 % (2007); 10.33 % (2008) , leading to an overall average denial for the Charleston hearing office of 11.83%.

By comparison, Huntington, WV processed 14,169 cases with 3,497 unfavorable during the same period. That’s 29.77/% (2005); 26.71% (2006); 22.9% (2007); 19.96% (2008) for an average of 24.68% denials.

Interestingly, Morgantown has a 41.31% denial rate. They process 9,559 cases with 3,949 unfavorable rulings. That’s 44.4% (2005(; 42.82% (2006); 39.7% (2007); 39.32% (2008).

See table: http://php.delawareonline.com/federal/_popup.php?qId=WV&queryName=byHearingState

For comparison , Pennsylvania had denial rates ranging from Harrisburg (17.06%) to Johnstown (36.54%). Pittsburgh, which is near Morgantown , had a 33.74% average denial rate.

http://php.delawareonline.com/federal/_popup.php?qId=PA&queryName=byHearingState

Examination of social security approval and disapproval rates appears to have gained momentum since The Oregonian published on December 30, 2008, via a FOIA request, the statistics of approvals and denials for all social security administrative law judges across the nation.

The Oregonian in their article wrote of “billion dollar judge” Charles Bridges. The then 62-year-old Bridges was the chief A.L.J. in the Social Security Administration’s Harrisburg, Pa. hearing office. The Oregon newspaper concluded that Judge Bridges costs taxpayers more than $2.1 billion over the 2005-2008 year span.

According to the article, Social Security launched an investigation in November 2007 of Bridges and “cleared him.”

The December 2008 article quoted Frank A. Cristaudo, the agency’s chief administrative law judge. Cristaudo said Social Security has reviewed the record of high-producing judges (which would include Bridges) and found no problem with their accuracy

DAUGHTERY STATISTICS

The listing includes 2005-2008 statistics for Judge Daugherty. However, he’s not the only social security administrative law judge with a high approval ranking. Judge Daugheerty’s denial rate was 5% (2005); 3% (2006); 1% (2007) and 1% (2008).

On behalf of Chris R. Borgia, Esq. the following was posted in Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits on Friday, May 27, 2011:

“Government statistics show that 27 SSA administrative law judges awarded benefits in 95 percent of the cases they heard this year.” The average denial rate across the country following an ALJ hearing is 40%.

Under the same Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits website, “on behalf of Chris R. Borgia, Esq.” refers to a lengthy post by an ALJ whom the writer identifies as the toughest in the nation --- he only approves eleven percent of claims.

Interestingly, Judge Denial likely would have constitutional issues with the treatment of Judge Daugherty.

“Congress created administrative judges in the Social Security Act and in the Administrative Procedures Act. In those laws, Congress specifically forbid administrative agencies (such as SSA) from taking any action against administrative judges on the grounds of their decisions or acts of judicial discretion in managing cases.”

Judge Denial goes on to discuss the separation of powers concept by the framers of the Constitution which “divided political powers into three branches to prevent the political passions of the day from taking this government down unwise paths.

What’s the political passion now? The pressure by SSA to process the backlog of cases and directives that each judge should average 500-700 dispositions per year. Still,  Social Security Commissioner Michael J.  Astrue had threatened “job action against any judge who did not meet an arbitrary number of dispositions per year.”

Ironically, the Oregonian found none of the Portland judges met the arbitrary target. Portland’s highest processing ALJ completed only 443 cases.

http://www.oregonlive.com/special/index.ssf/2008/12/paying_out_billions_...

Finally, two additional “expert” observations.

Judge Denial explained that “a denial Decision is much more complicated and time consuming to write, take two to three times as long as Decisions granting benefits.”

Another reporter wrote a scathing article concerning the piece of journalism published in the Wall Street Journal.

Found on the http://www.alternet.org website, which goes against the right mainstream, It’s a logical stating of that which was not stated in the WSJ article i.e. no one had prior to the article , including his superiors and those who review favorable decisions, cited Judge Daugherty for making an erroneous decision:

“This is an insidious piece of journalism. There is not one single example - not one - of Judge Daugherty making an erroneous decision, of providing benefits to someone who didn’t deserve them. That is because he hasn’t made one. How can I be so sure? Because if he had, you can bet your sweet bippy the Wall Street Journal reporter would have found out about it and reported it (More about the reporter in a moment). Yet the article gives you the distinct impression that he must have made mistakes, perhaps intentionally, perhaps for money. Perhaps the new investigation mentioned in the article will turn something up. If it does, and you can always find something amiss if you look hard enough, I think it is extremely unlikely that any close inquiry will find anything terribly serious. If the judge erred, he erred on the side of compassion. “

The writer continued: ”The judge seems to be doing what he can to ease the burden of some of the most forsaken and dispossessed people in one of the most forsaken and dispossessed regions in America, Not only is he providing relief to the disabled, but he is also doing what he can to make the convoluted process of obtaining that relief more manageable. As for the canard that what he is doing "strained" Social Security, read the article and take note of the level of benefits: we're talking peanuts.”

For the full article which describes Judge Daugherty as “extraordinary” for his service to his nation as a man possessing a “deep core of human decency,” click here:

http://www.alternet.org/newsandviews/article/592475/wall_street_journal_tries_to_smear_west_virginia_judge_over_social_security_rulings/

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