Sunday, September 21, 2008


Hello again everyone. Here's another short reflection on my new job. Thanks to everyone who commented on last week's entry. It's a bit lonely out here and the friendly contacts are certainly welcome.

After two weeks of hearing cases I've already discovered a rather surprising (surprising to me at any rate) basic law of judging Social Security cases. Finding in favor of someone and granting benefits is easy. It's gratifying, too. Claimants come to court convinced they are so disabled that they cannot work. They tell me their story. These stories are always heart wrenching. The claimants are sad, worn-out folks. Some have worked hard all their lives until an accident or bad judgment laid them low. Some are deadbeats, drug addicts, and lay-abouts who ran out of friends and luck. Some are ordinary people whose body has inexplicably turned on them. Many are mentally ill, undiagnosed and unable to care for themselves in any meaningful way.

During a hearing this week, as I listened to another sad story, I realized that I was going to have to deny this person benefits. I am certain that she believed she could not work, indeed it may be true that she can't work. The problem is she simply did not have any credible evidence to support her belief. Her good doctors had done their work well. According to them she had recovered most of her body's function. She hurt and was tired but I knew without a doubt that she could hold down a job.

As she told me that no one would hire her no matter how hard she tried, I looked at her lawyer. He is a well respected practitioner. He caught my eye. Somehow he saw that I had reached my decision and that it did not favor his client. I saw a slight change come over his face; a look of resignation, perhaps. As I noticed this change, he realized I knew that he knew the case was hopeless. At the end of the testimony I asked him if he needed more time to gather evidence that might convince me. He knew that such evidence did not exist and to his credit he did not pretend it did.

The next day I wrote the unfavorable decision. It took a lot of time to explain why I did not believe the testimony of the claimant and why her doctors did not provide adequate evidence of disability. This was hard work. Lonely work. Necessary work.

To my surprise, I did not shrink from this work or even find it distasteful. Judging means being striving to be fair. To be fair you need rules. It some cases the rules dictate some claimants lose. In order for me to do my part in this system of justice I have to apply these rules impartially, even when it means someone loses. It is hard work to be sure. I hope I can be worthy of it.

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