Wednesday, April 24, 2013

SSA Hearings Before Ways and Means Committee Scheduled For 26 April

Chairman Johnson Announces Hearing on the Challenges Facing the Next Commissioner of Social Security

HEARING ADVISORY 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 19, 2013

Ways & Means Press 202-226-4774

Chairman Johnson Announces Hearing on the Challenges Facing
the Next Commissioner of Social Security
U.S. Congressman Sam Johnson (R-TX), Chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security, today announced a hearing on the challenges facing the next Commissioner of Social Security. The hearing will take place on Friday, April 26, 2013, in B-318 Rayburn House Office Building, beginning at 9:30 a.m.
In announcing the hearing, Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) said, “Today, nearly 10,000 Americans sign up for retirement benefits every day.  The recession coupled with a slow economic recovery has resulted in a wave of new disability claims, increased backlogs and growing wait times for a frustrated public.  Moreover, the Disability Insurance program remains on the Government Accountability Office’s “High Risk” list. With ever increasing demands on Social Security, the time is now for bold and decisive leadership by the next Commissioner of Social Security.  This hearing will lay the groundwork for the challenges facing the new Commissioner and strategies for how best to address them, in order to adequately meet the needs of the American people.”
BACKGROUND
The Social Security Administration (SSA) is responsible for delivering services that impact the lives of nearly every American.  In fiscal year 2012, the SSA paid over 65 million people a total of more than $800 billion in retirement, survivors, disability, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.  During the same year, the SSA processed over 5 million retirement and survivor applications and 3.2 million disability applications, posted 245 million earnings items to workers’ records, assisted nearly 45 million visitors at their local offices, and completed more than 56 million transactions on their National 800 number.  In addition to serving the public, the SSA completed 443,000 medical continuing disability reviews and 2.6 million SSI redeterminations as part of its program integrity work.
As the nation ages, the SSA will continue to face unprecedented service delivery demands even as it moves to automate many of its core functions. With Congress and the President agreeing on nearly static annual SSA budgets for the last three years, along with tight budgetary caps for future federal agency spending, the SSA has reached a crossroad in terms of how it will continue to deliver services to the public in a constrained fiscal environment.
In response, the SSA is already operating under a self-imposed hiring freeze for the last 2.5 years and has reduced the hours its offices are open to the public.  At the same time, the agency has significantly increased online services, where today 45 percent of retirement applications and 33 percent of disability applications are being filed on line.
In March 2011, the Social Security Advisory Board (SSAB) issued a report, “A Vision of the Future for the Social Security Administration” criticizing the lack of strategic planning by SSA. To meet its mission, the SSAB urged the agency to prepare itself to manage its current and future mission-related objectives, including critical post-entitlement and program integrity activities, and efficiently use existing financial and other resources to balance its service delivery policies with its stewardship responsibilities.
The SSA will be led by a new Commissioner once the President chooses his nominee and the Senate completes its confirmation process.  Former Commissioner Michael J. Astrue’s six-year term expired in January 2013.  Carolyn Colvin, who served as the Deputy Commissioner, is currently serving as Acting Commissioner until a new Commissioner is confirmed.
--
your NADR Legislative Committee

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Why WasWebster Smith Court-martialed?

Why was Cadet 1st Class Webster Smith investigated, charged, tried, and convicted? Why must this talented young man register as a sexual offender for the remainder of his life? Why did he not find any justice in the military justice system? How could his case go through the entire appeal's process and end up at the United States Supreme Court without being granted any relief? Why would Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security refuse to grant clemency in a case that clearly cries out for justice?

At this point in history when America had come far enough to elect a Black President why was this shining example of the best and the brightest of the African Americans of his generation denied the equal protection of the law? Why was he relegated to the second rail of military justice? On the second rail one receives "almost equal protection".  Like much else in the law, equal protection is a myth for America's citizens of color. The myth gives one the illusion of fairness.

Could the answer have anything to do with the nature of the criminal justice system or the definition of crime?  Crime is a legal concept, and the law creates the crimes it punishes. But, what creates the criminal law?  Behind the law, above it, and surrounding it is our society. Before the law made certain behavior a crime, some aspect of social reality transformed certain behavior into a crime.

Justice is blind in the abstract. It cannot see or act on its own. It cannot create its own morals, principles and rules. That depends on society. Behind every legal determination of "guilty" lies a more powerful and more basic social and societal judgement, a judgement that this type of behavior is not acceptable. This type of behavior deserves to be prohibited and punished. Our society has long chosen to prohibit and punish interracial sex.

After society makes a social judgement that certain behavior, acts, or conduct is wrong, the criminal justice system goes to work. It refines and transforms the list of prohibited acts and behavior. It interprets the list of acts, and does whatever is necessary to catch, convict and punish the lawbreakers.

Bias is inevitable. Crime and punishment are highly charged, emotional, and political subjects. There is no way to wring prejudice, attitude, or race out of the system.



GENERAL COURT-MARTIAL
UNITED STATES COAST GUARD
UNITED STATES
v.
WEBSTER M. SMITH, CADET, U.S. COAST GUARD
FILED UNDER SEAL[*]

MEMORANDUM ORDER AND OPINION FINDINGS OF FACT

During the summer training program at the start of their first class year, Cadet Smith and Cadet [SR] were both assigned to patrol boats that moored at Station Little Creek. Both lived in barracks rooms at the Station…she went on to state that on October 19th….she agreed to pose for a picture with him in which both of them were nude, and later that night allowed him to perform cunnilingus on her then she performed fellatio on him.
___________________________________

…. the Government’s objection that this evidence is inadmissible in accordance with M.R.E. 413 [sic] is SUSTAINED.

EFFECTIVE DATE
This order was effective on 26 May 2006.
Done at Washington, DC,
/s/
Brian Judge
Captain, U.S. Coast Guard
Military Judge



The Webster Smith case was a litmus test for justice in America. Every once in a while a case comes along that puts our humanity as a people, and as Americans, on trial. Everything that we profess to stand for as Americans was on trial. Our sense of justice in America and particularly in the U.S. Military was on trial. This was no ordinary trial. Our humanity was on trial. Our system of justice was on trial. This case dissolved the deceptive fa├žade and exposed certain moral deficiencies in our system of justice. This case alone puts the legitimacy of the entire military justice system at risk.

This was not a sexual assault case. Webster Smith did not sexually assault anyone. What he did was engage in an act of consensual love making with a friend. He was charged and tried; his partner was not. Why not? They both violated the Coast Guard Academy Cadet Regulations by engaging in sexual activities in Chase Hall, the cadet barracks.

An article published in the New London DAY newspaper on 20 February 2008 entitled “Service Academies faulted in GAO report,”  stated: “In the summer of 2006, former cadet Webster Smith became the first student court-martialed at the Coast Guard Academy. He was acquitted of rape but convicted of extortion, sodomy and indecent assault.”
One might conclude that he was convicted of three of four charges. That is not correct. The truth is that of the 10 charges referred to the general court martial, Webster Smith was acquitted of one charge of rape, one count of extortion, one count of sodomy, one count of indecent assault and one charge of assault (five of 10 charges). All findings of guilty cited in the article related to one female.
That is only part of the story. The incidents related to Webster Smith were publicly announced as 16 pending charges in mid-February 2006. These charges concerned five women. In early 2006 the Coast Guard Investigative Service  (CGIS) began an investigation related to yet another woman (SR) and Webster Smith. This resulted in six additional charges, filed in March 2006. An Article 32 Investigation resulted in dismissal of 12 of the 22 charges.

 This means, 17 of 22 charged allegations were dismissed prior to trial (12 dismissals; five acquittals).(Merle J. Smith Jr.,Esquire, Individual Military Attorney for Webster Smith.
Waterford, CT.)

One Judge on the Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals found that former cadet Webster Smith was denied a fair trial and that the case should have been sent back to the trial court for a new trial. He found that the Case of United States vs Webster Smith should have been returned to the Convening Authority for a new trial.
The Judge found so many discretionary errors in the court-martial proceedings that he had no choice but to rule that Webster Smith had been denied a fair trial.

It was a classic case of "he-said, she-said". The trial came down to simply a credibility issue. The big question was who was telling the truth and who was not.

This was a question for the jury to decide. It was a fact question. The jury is the trier of facts. The court-martial judge (CAPT Brian Judge) went to extraordinary lengths to keep the question out of the hands of the jury. He took it upon himself to decide the issue of credibility. That is why Webster Smith was convicted.

The jury had no idea what the real issue was. They were kept in the dark. They were not given proper instructions. The judge decided who was the more credible witness. The judge abused his discretion.

The judge went beyond the authority and power delegated to him under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), and the Federal Rules of Evidence. Webster Smith was denied his Sixth Amendment Rights.

One does not have to read the Appeals Court decision to know that an accused at a court-martial has a right to cross-examine the witnesses against him. Anyone who has watched Perry Mason or Tom Cruise in the movie "A Few Good Men", would come away with an appreciation for the fact that the jury has the responsibility to decide what the facts are and who is not telling the truth.

When a judge does not allow the jury to do its job, he commits reversible error. When a judge confuses his duties with the duties assigned to the jury, then he has abused his discretion and that constitutes reversible error.

The prosecution was allowed to ask Webster Smith questions that were like bombshells that would cave in the sides of a Sherman Tank, but on cross-examination of the principal witness, the Defense lawyers were reduced to tip-toeing through the tulips. The uncorroborated testimony of the principal witness (SR) was a roadside bomb to Webster Smith's defense.

If the jury had only been allowed to follow the Yellow Brick Road and to resolve the credibility issue itself, then, at least, the trial of Webster Smith would have had some semblance of a fair trial. The trial judge, CAPT Brian Judge, was not taking any chances. He took matters into his own hands. He jumped onto the Scales of Justice and pulled them way down on the side of the Prosecution.

In a case where the principal witness was allowed to hide behind the military judge for protection from thorough cross-examination; and where facts and perceptions may have been dispositive of the ultimate issue, Truth can be elusive. In a case where a convincing and charming fabricator of facts can sway a jury that has not been fully informed, and where the jury has only been given some of the relevant facts, the judge left a lot of room for mischief on the part of a sneaky prosecutor. The judge left a lot of room for the imagination of the jury to run wild when he allowed the Prosecutor to introduce just enough evidence to put Webster Smith in a compromising position; but he denied the Defense lawyers an opportunity to explain the contradictions by cross-examining the principal witness. Then the judge left it to the jury to "connect the dots". This was terribly unfair to the accused, Webster Smith.

Webster Smith was reduced to "a bug under a glass jar" for inspection, and the principal witness was kept as snug as a bug in a rug. Eventually all of this discretionary "hokus-pokus" became so egregious as to eliminate any possibility of a fair trial for Webster Smith. Finding the Truth became next to impossible. This case should have been remanded for a new trial. To send the case back to the Superintendent of the Coast Guard Academy, the Convening Authority, for a new trial was the only fair way to remedy the errors that were committed in the court-martial of Webster Smith.

The Founding Fathers and the framers of the U S Constitution provided procedural safeguards for criminal defendents facing the awesome powers on the Federal Government. They gave him; among other rights, the right to remain silent, the right to trial by jury, and the right to confront and to cross-examine the witnesses against him. These rights are inalienable. These rights cannot be taken away; not by the Government, and certainly not by a part-time trial judge.

One judge on the Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals saw clearly how the legal system, the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution, and the Military Rules of Evidence were misused to deny Webster Smith a fair trial.

I believe a great travesty of justice was committed. A gross miscarriage of justice was done at the Coast Guard Academy. The entire process was flawed.
The only evidence was the word of a couple of incredible females. There was no physical evidence whatsoever.
Webster Smith has apologized for his behavior. Confession is good for the soul. It is the first step toward true rehabilitation. No one else involved in the entire episode showed such strength of character. The Academy is a character building institution.


 Cadet Webster Smith was a victim of jealousy, racial discrimination, a violation of the 14th Amendment Equal Protection clause, and last but not the least, a victim of a double standard.
He was one of the most loved and respected cadets on campus. But he had two things going against him. One, he had dated the first female Regimental Commander, and the Dean of Admissions’ daughter. Both were white. Since they were white and Cadet Smith was Black, it did not sit well with the Commandant of Cadets.
Racial Prejudice is still very much alive at the Academy.


 America's fighting men have come in many guises, shapes and sizes. They have had to fight all of America's enemies, both foreign and domestic. Cadet Webster Smith had to fight his own senior officers, friends, and mentors. In the end he was proud. He had fought the good fight. Even TIME magazine carried the quote of the first cadet in Coast Guard history to be tried by a General Court-martial.

http://www.time.com/time/quotes/0,26174,1209244,00.html


Less than 60 days after the verdict was rendered in the Webster Smith case, I predicted that the case would make it all the way to the Supreme Court.

Supreme Court justices are not elected. They are appointed with the advice and consent of the Congress. The Nine Justices of the Supreme Court are the least democratic branch of the federal government. They have no constituency. They do not have to conform to the biases of the majority. They are the Court of Last Resort; so, they are infallible. With few exceptions, they have dealt with evenhandedly with all of America's citizens.

They do not have to sit for re-election. They are appointed for life. They are totally isolated from busy bodies on the Right or Left Side of the political spectrum. With one stroke of the pen, they may act to curb injustices, correct unsavory attitudes, and breathe new life into a living Constitution.

Historically we have looked to them to solve our most vexing social problems. They are America's ultimate arbiters of justice; and, that includes military justice.

Aside from the Webster Smith Case, I cannot think of any case or incident in Coast Guard history that affected more directly the hearts, minds, and daily lives of all members of the United States Coast Guard.

The U.S. Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals had to review the Webster Smith case. It had no choice. Article 66 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, requires the Coast Guard Criminal appeals Court to review all cases of trial by court-martial in which the sentence as approved by the Convening Authority extends to dismissal of a cadet from the Coast Guard, and/or a dishonorable or bad conduct discharge, unless the accused waives appellate review. Webster Smith did not waive appellate review. He appealed his conviction. Oral arguments in the Case of The Appeal of the Court-martial Conviction of Cadet Webster Smith was scheduled for January 16, 2008 in Arlington, Virginia.

A legal brief filed by his lawyers claimed the convictions should have been thrown out because the defense team was not allowed to fully cross-examine one of his accusers during Smith's court martial. They said that meant the jury didn't hear testimony that the accuser, a female cadet, Shelly Roddenbush, had once had consensual sex with a Coast Guard enlisted man and then called it sexual assault. If she lied once, she very well could have lied again.

The Coast Guard Court of of Criminal Appeals is made up of Coast Guard Officers. It has the power to decide matter of both fact and law. Decisions of the Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals may be appealed to the Court of Appeals of the Armed Forces (CAAF). It is made up of five civilian judges, appointed to 15 year terms. It decides only issues of law. Its decisions may be appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court. The Webster Smith Case followed this long and winding path all the way to the Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear the appeal of Webster Smith. The justices declined to hear the case without comment.

Webster Smith was proud of his decision to fight the good fight all the way to the end of the road. See TIME magazine June 29, 2006.

http://www.time.com/time/quotes/0,26174,1209244,00.html


https://www.amazon.com/author/cgachall.blogspot.com
 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Social Security Judges Sue Their Commissioner Alleging Unfair Labor Practices


Social Security’s disability program is overwhelmed by so many claims that judges sometimes award benefits they might otherwise deny just to keep up with the flow of cases, according to a lawsuit filed by the judges themselves. This practice is referred to as "paying down the backlog".
(http://www.amazon.com/SocialNsecurity-ebook/dp/B006VOQIKK)
The Social Security Administration says the agency’s administrative law judges (ALJs) should decide 500 to 700 disability cases a year. The agency calls the standard a productivity goal, but a lawsuit filed by the Social Security Judges against the Commissioner and the Agency claims it is an illegal quota that requires judges to decide an average of more than two cases per workday.
                                        (Marilyn Zahm and Randy Frye)
‘‘When the goals are too high, the easy way out is to pay the case,’’ said Randall Frye, president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges (AALJ) and a judge in Charlotte, N.C. ‘‘Paying the case is a decision that might be three pages long. When you deny benefits, it’s usually a 15- or 20-page denial that takes a lot more time and effort.’’
The lawsuit raises serious questions about the integrity of the disability hearing process by the very people in charge of running it. It comes as the disability program faces serious financial problems.


Commissioner Astrue's story has not changed much, if at all, since he appeared before Congress in May 2007 and April 2008. (His statements and testimony are recorded in detail in my book, socialNsecurity, beginning at page 443. Available at  http://www.amazon.com/SocialNsecurity-ebook/dp/B006VOQIKK

 He is still blaming the judges, asking for more money, more judges, and more time to reduce the backlog. Since 2007 the number of judges has gone from 1200 to 1500 and the backlog continues to grow. And Mr. Astrue continues to make excuses.
Mr. Astrue wants to have it both ways. "I find it interesting that there is so much wringing of the hands about a judge who pays almost 100% of his cases, as if the agency didn't know about it, as if the agency wasn't complicit in it, as if the agency didn't encourage it," said Marilyn Zahm, a Social Security judge in Buffalo, NY who is an executive vice president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges (AALJ), the judges' union.
Judge Zahm had a lot more to say in an interview in October 2009. (Read the entire interview starting at page 430 in my book, socialNsecurity, available at  http://www.amazon.com/SocialNsecurity-ebook/dp/B006VOQIKK

It is a bit surprising that Judge Zahm would be so out-spoken, considering the minimum amount of work she does and the large amount of money she is paid. According to Social Security records Judge Zahm issued only 26 decisions for the 9 months between September 2010 and June 2011. At a salary of $167,000.00 per year, she earned $6,423.00 per decision. An average hearing lasts about 30 minutes; so, her hourly wage for that period was about $12,846.00. That is a nice salary for so little work.
However, Judge Zahm is only the Vice President of the AALJ. Perhaps, the President, Judge Randy Frye, sets a better example. According to Social Security records Judge Frye issued only 37 decisions for the 9 months between September 2010 and June 2011. At a salary of $167,000.00 per year, he earned $4,513.50 per decision. An average hearing lasts about 30 minutes; so, his hourly wage for that period was about $9,027.00. That is also a nice salary for so little work.
Judges Zahm and Frye are not unique. During the same period Judge Mark Anderson issued only 3 decisions; Judge JoAnn Andersen issued only 5 decisions; Judge William King held only 4 hearings and issued 1 decision. He was busy traveling between California and Hawaii to conduct the hearings.
These statistics came from an SSA report which contains raw data from SSA's Case Processing and Management System without regard to the amount of time Administrative Law Judges devote to actual adjudication. In other words, factors which would affect the number of dispositions (e.g., management and administrative responsibilities, special assignments, part-time status, union representational duties, retirements, deaths or extended leave, etc.) have not been taken into account.
Here is what Commissioner Astrue is failing to say. The 1500 SSA ALJs earn approximately $167,000 a year each. The salaries of those ALJs is $2 billion 505 million a year. That figure does not include the about $3 billion a year which pays the salaries of the ALJs support staff and Commissioner Astrue's salary and that of his support staff. Also 20% of the ALJs do not hold any hearings.
Some ALJs decide 200 cases per month without holding hearings. They award benefits in 100% of their cases, trying to "pay down the backlog" like the judge in Huntington, W.Va., who awarded benefits in every case he saw in the first six months of fiscal 2011.
A GS-9 lawyer could perform the same function at a fraction of the cost. A GS-9 lawyer earns about $40,000 a year. The cost to the taxpayer of 1500 such lawyers would be only $60 million a year. That is much less than the $2 and a half billion in salaries to 1500 ALJs. That is where the cuts should begin, not with benefits to claimants.
Just 4 years ago in the middle of the economic downturn there were 1200 ALJs. Today there are upwards to 1500 according to Michael Astrue. The backlog of cases waiting to be heard has not decreased, despite pressure from Mr. Astrue to force the ALJs to "pay down the backlog". Yet, Mr. Astrue kept hiring more judges at $167 thousand a year.
Former Commissioner Astrue could be vague in his testimony before Congress. We can be specific as to who the ALJs are and how many cases they decide each month and their reversal rates.
(See http://www.ssa.gov/appeals/DataSets/03_ALJ_Disposition_Data.html.)
A court-by-court analysis of close to two million Social Security Administration (SSA) claims has documented extensive and hard-to-explain disparities in the way the administrative law judges (ALJs) within the agency's separate hearing offices decide whether individuals will be granted or denied disability benefits.
(http://trac.syr.edu/tracreports/ssa/254/)

                                                             (Carolyn Colvin)
The lawsuit was filed by the AALJ and three judges on April 18, 2013 in Federal District Court in Chicago. It names the agency and Acting Social Security Commissioner Carolyn Colvin as defendants. Colvin took over in February after Commissioner Michael Astrue’s six-year term expired.
 In an interview, Former Commissioner Michael  Astrue disputed the union’s claims.
                                                          (Michael Astrue)
Social Security’s disability program is overwhelmed by so many claims that judges sometimes award benefits they might otherwise deny just to keep up with the flow of cases, according to a lawsuit filed by the judges themselves. This practice is referred to as "paying down the backlog".

"What’s really happening here is that the judges’ union doesn’t want accountability of its members and it’s been trying to sell this story to the media and to the Congress and to the agency for a very long time,’’ Astrue said. ‘‘And no one’s buying it because it’s not true, and no federal judge is going to buy this story, either.’’
‘‘There are a very small number of malcontents who want to litigate or put political pressure on the agency rather than do their work,’’ Astrue said.
The union represents 1,400 administrative law judges. Its lawsuit describes a disability system in crisis.
About 3.2 million people applied for disability benefits last year, a 25 percent increase from a decade before. Claims have increased in part because of aging baby boomers. As people get older, they become more prone to disabilities.
Disability claims also typically increase when the economy sours. Some people who manage to work despite their disabilities get laid off and apply for benefits, while others apply out of economic desperation.
When people apply for Social Security disability benefits, their cases are initially reviewed by the State Disability Determination Service (DDS), which reject most claims. If your claim is rejected, you can appeal to an ALJ. But the hearing process takes an average of 373 days — a little more than a year — according to agency statistics.
Astrue said the average processing time for a hearing peaked at 542 days shortly after he took over the agency. He said public outcry over the "backlog" led him to adopt productivity (that is, assign quotas) standards in 2007, which helped reduce the wait time (that is, forced ALJs to "pay down the backlog").
The hearing process, which is closed to the public, is different from a civil lawsuit or a criminal trial. There is no lawyer for the government. Instead, judges are expected to be impartial decision-makers while protecting the interest of taxpayers and ensuring that applicants get fair hearings. Most applicants have legal representation by the time their claim results in a hearing.



Social Security Disability hearings are not trials. They are more in the nature of fact finding inquiries. They are presided over by an administrative law judge (ALJ), who is trained in the law. At a hearing only one side of the case is present and represented by an attorney or a paralegal. That is the claimant’s side.
If only one side of a controversy is present for the hearing, then why does the claimant need to have a judge presiding? When the Government wants to win a case, Congress designs a system that provides it with an advantage. In Immigration Hearings, the Government is represented by an attorney. When the Government is a party to a hearing before the Supreme Court, it is represented by the Solicitor General. In any other federal judicial forum where the Government has an interest, the Attorney General will ensure that the Government is adequately represented.
In Social Security Disability hearings the Government is not represented. The Government is not even present. That is probably because the system was designed to give the claimant an advantage. The case is the claimant’s case, to win or to lose. A judge is not needed to collect the medical records and listen to testimony that is not really cross-examined. The presiding officer is forced to accept the claimant’s testimony, no matter how farfetched it may be. The only evidence available to impeach the testimony of the witnesses is the evidence that the claimant provides. This could hardly be considered cross-examination.
 

 See (http://www.amazon.com/SocialNsecurity-ebook/dp/B006VOQIKK)

Frye said he has never awarded benefits just to clear a case faster, and he couldn’t name any judges who have.
‘‘It’s hard for anyone to say a judge is willingly deciding cases incorrectly just to meet the quota,’’ Frye said. ‘‘What they have told us is they are not reviewing all of the evidence, they are not developing the case as they should, and from that I think you can clearly see that the case may not be or could not be correctly decided.’’

The lawsuit says case quotas violate judges’ independence and deny due process rights to applicants.
‘‘Some ALJs respond by tending to grant more claims,’’ the lawsuit says. ‘‘For other ALJs, the quota impedes their ability to render carefully reasoned, impartial decisions based on a fully developed factual record.’’
The lawsuit alleges that ALJs are expected to meet their quotas, regardless of how complicated their cases are, even though many case files exceed 500 pages. ALJs have been disciplined for missing the quota, including receiving formal reprimands and facing removal proceedings, according to the lawsuit.
Nearly 11 million disabled workers, spouses and children get Social Security disability benefits. That’s up from 7.6 million a decade ago. The average monthly benefit for a disabled worker is $1,130.
In 2011, Social Security disability paid about $129 billion in benefits.
(AP)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Hard Cases Make Bad Law. Dissatisfaction With One Case, No Reason To Change The Code of Justice.


Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, commander of the 3rd Air Force at Ramstein Air Base in Germany convened a court-martial to try Lt. Col. James Wilkerson III on charges of, among other things, sexual assault of a female, not his wife. Lt. Col. Wilkerson was tried by a jury and found guilty as charged. In performing his duties as Convening Authority under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), Lt. Gen. Franklin set aside the sexual assault conviction.

The February 2013 decision ignited a firestorm on Capitol Hill and drew scrutiny to the separate set of laws governing military members, known as the UCMJ. Following his review of the case, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel proposed removing the convening authority from commanders in major cases.
(He did not specify what he thought would constitute a major case.)

Lt. Gen. Franklin defended his decision in a six-page letter he submitted to the service in response to the uproar. He said accusations that his motivation was to protect a fellow fighter pilot are "preposterous." Accusations that he doesn't understand sexual assault or take the crime seriously "are complete and utter nonsense," he wrote. Allegations that his decision was influenced by his previous role commanding a unit the pilot later served in "are equally preposterous," he wrote.

 In the letter, Franklin, says he struggled with the decision. However, after he reviewed the evidence, he found the defendant, Lt. Col. James Wilkerson III, and his wife, Beth, more credible than the alleged victim, Ms Kimberly Hanks, who has since come forward publicly to discuss the matter.
Approving the jury's finding of guilt "would have been an act of cowardice," Franklin wrote. "I hold a genuine and reasonable doubt that Lt. Col. Wilkerson committed the crime," he wrote. "My court-martial action to disapprove findings and to dismiss the charges was the right, the just, and the only thing to do."

Wilkerson, then the inspector general at Aviano Air Base in Italy and a former F-16 pilot, was found guilty of multiple charges to include aggravated assault. He was sentenced to a year in prison and dismissal from the service before Franklin overturned the conviction.

Ms Hanks accused him of fondling her breasts and genitalia as she slept in his guest bedroom, according to court documents. The two met at a club with groups of friends after a rock concert that was held on base, organized by the USO and featuring the alternative rock band, Seether, according to her testimony.

Ms Hanks is a divorcee. She worked as a civilian contractor in the medical clinic on the base. She alleged that she previously did not know Lt. Col.Wilkerson but some how she wound up at his home in Roverado. Ms Hanks said she awoke in a bedroom with Lt. Col.Wilkerson when his wife entered the room, turned on the lights and said: "What the hell is going on?"

Ms Hanks testified that the woman then ordered her to, "Get the hell out of my house."
In his letter, Lt. Gen. Franklin said he was persuaded in part by the many letters of clemency from family, friends and colleagues of the Lt. Col. Wilkersons that "painted a consistent picture of a person who adored his wife and 9-year-old son, as well as a picture of a long-serving professional Air Force officer."

Lt. Gen. Franklin also makes a point to cast doubt on Lt. Col. Wilkerson's failed polygraph test.
"A polygraph is only an investigative tool to assist in the potential focus of the investigation and/or to attempt to elicit admissions of guilt," he wrote. "It is not a ‘lie-detector test,' nor is it ‘pass' or ‘fail.' Because of the inherent unreliability of polygraphs, they are entirely inadmissible in a court-martial."

As one would expect, lawmakers and supporters of sexual-assault victims were shocked by Lt. Gen. Franklin's letter.

 "This explanation crystalizes exactly why the convening authority should not have the unilateral ability to overturn a jury verdict -- and why we need legislation that restricts their ability to do so," Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said in a statement. "This letter is filled with selective reasoning and assumptions from someone with no legal training, and it's appalling that the reasoning spelled out in the letter served as the basis to overturn a jury verdict in this case."

In light of the case, McCaskill introduced legislation that would curtail the authority of military commanders to dismiss jury convictions against sex offenders.

Protect Our Defenders, a nonprofit based in Burlingame, Calif., called for Lt. Gen. Franklin to be dismissed from the military. "Lt. Gen. Franklin made a deeply flawed and inappropriate decision," the group's president, Nancy Parrish, said in a statement. "Rather than rely on the credibility determinations of the senior members of the jury he selected, Franklin chose to accept the word of Wilkerson's supporters."

 Lt. Col. Wilkerson will remain on active duty and is being transferred to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., where he will become chief of flight safety for the 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern), according to Master Sgt. Kelly Ogden, a spokeswoman for the unit. He is expected to arrive later this month or in early May.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on April 8 said he would ask Congress to pass legislation that would prevent commanders from overturning convictions without explanation.
In 2011, less than half of the reported 3,200 sexual assaults in the military resulted in disciplinary action, according to the Defense Department. The number of actual sexual assaults each year is probably closer to 19,000, based on anonymous surveys of active-duty service members.
 

                       (U. S. Air Force Academy cadets charged with sexual assault.)

The number of sexual assaults at military academies has been on the rise. No cadet tried or convicted of sexual assault has had his conviction set aside by the Convening Authority.
Sexual assault reports at the Air Force Academy jumped nearly 60 percent during the last academic year while the prevalence of the crime remained about the same, according to a new Defense Department study.
The results, which mirror the two other service institutions — the Military Academy and the Naval Academy — signal greater victim confidence but show that efforts to reduce sexual assaults among future military leaders have been unsuccessful.
Air Force cadets made 52 sexual assault reports during the 2011-2012 year, up 58 percent from 33 in 2010-2011. They also accounted for 65 percent of the 80 reports made at all three academies, despite sim­ilar student populations.
In 44 of the 80 reports, victims said they were victimized by a fel­low cadet or midshipman, the study said. Twenty-five incidents occurred on academy grounds.



               (U. S. Coast Guard Academy cadet, Webster Smith)
A cadet at the U. S. Coast Guard Academy was convicted of sexual assault in 2006. It was the first court-martial of a cadet in the history of the U. S. Coast Guard. Cadet Webster Smith was only six months away from graduating when he was accused, tried, and convicted. He protested his innocence. His case was appealed all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court refused to grant a review of the conviction. Cadet Smith's petition was dismissed without comment by the Supreme Court.


The Webster Smith Story is an American tragedy. It is not just the story of a Coast Guard Academy cadet; it is the story of an American family. To his classmates, teachers, and coaches at the Coast Guard Academy Webster Smith appeared to be a magnetic, charming and gifted man, who had risen above his circumstances. Yet, in a moment, as if in the twinkling of an eye, a swift series of events diminished his popularity, vilified his name, and assailed his honor. His image was converted by senior Coast Guard officers from a popular athlete and nice guy to that of a sexual predator and public enemy number one at the Coast Guard Academy. The Webster Smith case was a litmus test for justice in America.

                                              (Ariana Klay, former USMC officer)
Lt. Ariana Klay, a U. S. Naval Academy graduate, served as a protocol officer for the U. S. Marine Corps Barracks, Washington, DC. She alleged that while there, she was sexually harassed by a lieutenant colonel, a major and a captain. She said she was gang-raped by a Marine officer and his civilian friend, a former Marine.
Lt. Klay alleged that the Marine officer threatened to kill her and told his friend he would show him “what a slut she was” and “humiliate” her. After she reported the alleged rapes and subsequent harassment, the Marine Corps investigation ruled that she welcomed the harassment because “she wore makeup, regulation-length skirts as a part of her uniform and exercised in running shorts and tank tops.”
 The Marine Corps did not punish any of those who were accused of sexually harassing Lt. Klay. One of her alleged harassers was granted a waiver by the Corps that permitted him to get a security clearance despite accusations of hazing and sexual misconduct against not only Lt.  Klay but many others. He was selected to be in a nationally televised recruitment commercial while he was still under investigation.
The Marine Corps finally court-martialed one of Lt. Klay’s alleged attackers but didn’t convict him of rape, instead finding him guilty of adultery and indecent language (a common escape by military courts from the rape charge). The military court ruled that Lt.  Klay “consented” to having sex with the men despite the evidence that the accused threatened to kill her. Lt. Klay has attempted suicide since the alleged rapes and harassment and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.