Social Security Administrative Law Judge Harry Taylor likes to catch a few winks while on the job at his Charleston office. A report by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform says the judge “repeatedly slept in his office, during staff meetings and during hearings.”
Taylor denies the allegations, even though he was once confronted by a supervisor who played a CD recording of a 2009 hearing where you could hear the judge snoring. But according to the congressional report, the slumberous Taylor’s real problem is his legal lethargy.
His job, which he has held since 1988, is to hear appeals when a person has been denied Social Security disability benefits. Typically, these cases only reach an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) like Taylor after they have been denied twice.
The report found that between 2005 and 2013, Taylor ruled in favor of the claimant 94 percent of the time, awarding $2.5 billion in benefits to 8,227 individuals. In two out of every three cases, Taylor reached his decision without holding a hearing.
Reviews by the Social Security Administration found Taylor’s work incompetent and sloppy. Additionally, the congressional report determined he repeatedly demonstrated inappropriate conduct toward female co-workers and others.
Ironically, Taylor may have helped the Charleston SSA office look good to some higher ups because his whirlwind approach helped reduce a backlog of cases; never mind that it cost taxpayers billions.
This problem is much larger than one person, though. The congressional report says that between 2005 and 2013, “more than 1.3 million individuals were placed on a federal disability program, at a total cost of nearly $400 billion by ALJs who granted appeals more than 75 percent of the time.”
The abuse first came to light in a 2010 report in the Wall Street Journal which focused, interestingly enough, on another ALJ from West Virginia. D.B. Daugherty of Huntington was the poster child for runaway claims. He awarded benefits 99 percent of the time, approving $2.5 billion in lifetime benefits to 8,413 individuals from 2005 until 2011.
Daugherty is alleged to have collaborated with Kentucky disability attorney Eric Conn, who sought people who had been denied benefits and then steered the cases to Daugherty for approval. According to the Journal, Daugherty once said of his more judicious cohorts, “Some of these judges act like it’s their own damn money we’re giving away.”
Daugherty was forced to retire in 2011, but he is collecting full federal retirement benefits. As for Taylor, he remains on the job. A supervisor recommended over a year ago that Taylor be suspended for 60 days for misconduct, but that’s still pending.
Better yet, Taylor should resign, but that’s a big decision. Perhaps he should sleep on it.