Buckley & Buckley, LLC
234 Church Street
New Haven, CT 06510
Phone: 203-624-2424

    The hearings almost always start on time. Unlike other court and administrative proceedings in which you may have been involved, your Social Security Disability hearing will likely start on time. Therefore, you must be on time. If you're not sure where the office is, try to go by the office a few days before the hearing, just to familiarize yourself with the location and the parking or bus line situation. You really do not want to be frantically running around right before your hearing, trying to find the building or a parking space.

    The hearing rooms are small. As these are not public hearings, there has to be room enough, only for the Administrative Law Judge, yourself, your lawyer (if you have one), any vocational or medical experts who may be testifying in person and any other witness you intend to call to speak on your behalf. Typically, the Judge sits at a raised platform at one end of the room, with her or his name on a name plate and there are two tables in the rest of the room for yourself and the other persons mentioned. There are no chairs for the public or spectators, as these are closed, private hearings.

    There is a complete "record"made of the hearing in the form of a recording of the spoken words during the hearing. The way this is done is with recording machines. The monitor watches and listens to the recording machine to make sure that it is recording and working and that the voices are able to be heard clearly on the recording. There are typically microphones in front of each person who will be speaking. These microphones do not make voices louder, they only record the voices.

    These hearings tend to start fast, once the case is called. You enter the room, take your seat and the Judge will either enter the room, if not already there, or if already there, start the hearing almost immediately. The Judge opens the hearing by reciting your name and the Social Security number in the case and reciting what applications are involved.

    If you do not have a lawyer, the Judge will inquire if you wish to obtain a lawyer. At the first hearing, the Judge must postpone the hearing to give you a chance to get a lawyer. If you have a lawyer, the Judge will typically not recite the issues involved, or ask your lawyer if your lawyer waives a recitation of the issues. Then the Judge will review the Exhibits, in bulk, that are part of the file. At this point, there are several issues that can be addressed, including missing exhibits, exhibits that are mislabeled, exhibits that should not be in the file, and exhibits that are objectionable either as to admissibility or the appropriate weight of the exhibits.

    All persons who will be testifying will be administered an oath. If you have brought a family member or friend or medical provider or clinician to testify, the Judge may exclude them from the early part of the hearing, and have them testify at a later part. But, anyone who is in the room who will be testifying, will be administered an oath. It is the same oath you see on television, with your hand raised.

    There are no "rules" as to how the testimony is taken. Each Judge has her or his own particular style, but typically, the Judge will ask a number of questions first-some more than others-and then give your lawyer a chance to ask questions. If you do not have a lawyer, presumably the Judge will ask the questions she or he thinks are necessary and then give you a chance to tell the Judge anything else you think is important.

    The testimony will cover the following areas, at least:
    (1) Your age
    (2) Your educational background, including whether you had any special education or vocational training
    (3) Your work experience, including the jobs held, the job titles, the job duties and the physical and mental requirements of the jobs and if you are currently working, how many hours per week you are working and what pay you are receiving.
    (4) Your medical conditions, including what body parts are affected, what treatment you have undertaken, what doctors you have seen and are seeing, what tests you have undergone and what medication you are taking, including whether the medication helps and any side effects of the medication
    (5) Your mental health conditions, including the symptoms of the conditions, what treatment you have undertaken, what doctors you have seen and are seeing, what tests you have undergone and what medication you are taking, including whether the medication helps and any side effects of the medication
    (6) How your conditions affect your ability to do work related activities, including physical limitations in standing, walking, sitting, lifting, carrying, reaching, using your hands and legs, bending, squatting, concentrating, paying attention, maintaining a work pace, getting along with co-workers and the public
    (7) Your daily activities, including where you live, with whom you live, how you get around (can you drive, can you ride a bus without problems), what sorts of work around the house you do, including caring for children and pets, trips that you have taken, and your social activities.
    (8) If you have substance abuse as an issue, there will likely be a number of questions about those areas as well.

    One Judge's first question: What a great question!

    TELL THE TRUTH. You must tell the truth. First, it is the right thing to do. Second, you have taken an oath to tell the truth and if you do not tell the truth, you are committing perjury and that is a crime. Third, the Administration has many of your records. The Administration has up to date work reports for any work you have done. Doctors include in their reports many, many things that you have said over time, that you have long forgotten that you told the doctor. You filled out many forms asking you questions about your limitations. The Judge will read all these records. Assuming that those records are accurate, the Judge will doubt your credibility if your testimony is substantially different than what is contained in the records. Finally, the things that claimants are reluctant to talk about almost, invariably, would help their case.

    If the Judge does not ask you about about something important about your situation, make sure you tell the Judge. Sometimes the Judges ask about medical conditions, but are unaware of one or more of all the conditions. If the Judge asks about some of the conditions, but not all, do not leave that hearing room unless you tell the Judge, also, about the conditions about which the Judge did not ask. Also, make sure the Judge has the entire picture. If the Judge asks you if you can drive and you DO know how to drive, but you never drive because you have panic attacks while driving and you had an accident once during a panic attack, don't just let your answer go with "Yes, I can drive". The Judge needs to know, even if you can drive, that you don't drive because of your condition.

    If you have other witnesses to testify, this is the time that those witnesses will testify. If you have a lawyer, the Judge will typically leave it up to your lawyer to ask the majority of the questions.

    There are two types of experts that may testify at your hearing. One is a medical expert and the other is a vocational expert. You will never have met either of these experts, unless the Judge asks one of the consultative examiners to testify. They will give testimony, based on the records in the file and your testimony about your conditions, what limitations you have and whether you can work. You are allowed to cross examine the experts. In Connecticut, if you object to the experts testifying by telephone, they must appear in person to testify.

    It varies based on the issues, the Judge, the number of witnesses and how much information has to be covered (it takes a great deal less time to describe 1 job rather than describing 7 jobs). It can be anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 and 1/2 hours.

    Although the Judges may issue the decision at the time of the hearing, called a bench decision, usually the decision will not be announced that day and you will be mailed a written decision. It typically takes between two weeks to two months to receive the written decision.

    You are not required to have a lawyer. Given that there are no fees owing unless you win the case, it seems a risky decision, given how much is hanging on the outcome of the case and that you owe no fees unless you win the case, to take such a chance.

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