Portland, Oregon's Worst Disability Judges Live Under Same Roof
There are 12 administrative law judges (ALJs) in Portland, Oregon responsible for reviewing appeals of applications for Social Security disability benefits that have been previously denied by employees of the Social Security Administration. Of those 12 judges the 2 with the lowest approval ratings from 09/26/2020 through 07/30/2021 (Cynthia Dee Rosa and John Andrew Michaelsen) live under the same roof. What are the odds?
I don't think the odds of this being anything but an indication of personal bias' towards legitimately disabled people are very high. If you look at the overall approval ratings of other judges you will see that about half of them approve more than 50% of their cases with the top two approving over 78% of their cases. Looking at Judge Rosa's low numbers alone, one might try making an argument on her behalf that she just happens to receive the largest percentage of meritless claims and that is why she is the only judge with an approval rating below 30%, but I think the fact that the next highest name on the list lives with her casts great doubt on that legitimacy of that argument. I suspect that they are a married couple, but cannot confirm it, so for all I know they could be relatives or just friends. Whatever they are, Judges Rosa and Michaelsen obviously have more in common than their occupation alone. Married couples, friends, and family often share similar personal views which are typically among the reasons they stick together in the first place. I think those shared views include contempt for those seeking disability benefits based on the misconception that they are lazy people perfectly capable of working. Such shared beliefs are a more likely explanation for them sharing the bottom two spots on the list of ALJ approval ratings. Their low approval ratings are likely the result of a shared predisposition against applicants.
Such a predisposition would explain an opinion of Judge Rosa's that I recently read involving someone I know very well. He was ordered by a federal judge to seek disability benefits as a condition of supervised release based on his psychological evaluations. To protect his privacy I will not name him or his exact diagnosis, but I will say that it is a dual diagnosis involving a neurological disorder that he was born with and a second disorder that he acquired later in life due to traumatic experiences. This can lead to confusion for some because they might think that most people with just his neurological disorder alone are not impaired to the point of not being able to work and think the same thing about those whose only diagnosis is the trauma disorder. What they typically fail to understand is that the second condition makes it extremely difficult for him to manage the symptoms of his neurological disorder and vise versa. His criminal history is a direct result of his dual diagnosis. The dual diagnosis makes it impossible for him to remain employed for any significant length of time should someone take the chance of hiring him in the first place. This was explained in writing by a forensic psychologist who stated correctly that he qualifies for disability benefits and other doctors whose qualified opinions overwhelmingly support his application.
Judge Rosa's opinion in his case appears to be the work of someone whose objective is to find any excuse she can to dispute qualified experts. For example, she said that she found evaluations written by people with doctoral degrees less persuasive than notes written by less qualified people. Those less qualified people include mental health staff members at correctional facilities and non-profit groups contracted by U.S. Probation. Such people typically range from registered nurses and licensed clinical social workers with at best associates and bachelor's degrees to nurse practitioners with master's degrees. None of those people are more qualified than someone a Ph.D. or an M.D. to decide if someone qualifies for disability benefits. To her credit, Judge Rosa does have doctorate, but it is a J.D. which only makes her an expert on law. Having a J.D. does not make anyone more qualified than someone with an M.D. or mental health related Ph.D. to determine if someone qualifies for disability benefits for mental health reasons.
To make matters worse, mental health and medical personnel working in corrections are usually the worst in their field. They work at jails, prisons, and non-profits contracted by probation offices because they can't find any other work in their field. They are always paid less than their colleagues in the private sector to work in more dangerous environments. That is true of everyone from lowly social workers and nurses up to nurse practitioners and doctors. They stay for the job security knowing that finding others willing to take their place would be so hard that they can get away with just about anything. Things like failing to medicate, under-medicating, mis-medicating, failing to treat, undertreating, or misdiagnosing someone. All of those things happened to this guy. He went from being properly treated in the community to being cut off of his medication, having his doses reduced, being given the wrong medication, denied treatment, treated insufficiently, and in some cases diagnosed with conditions he has never had by unqualified people. In one case he was misdiagnosed by a jail nurse and given medication to treat a condition he never had. In other cases his symptoms were minimized in treatment notes to justify not prescribing medication or minimizing doses for the purpose of costing the government less money. Upon his release neither his legal counsel nor his probation officer could find anyone willing to treat him at pay rates supported by the Oregon Health Plan citing concerns for their safety, so he did not receive therapy. Judge Rosa views such things as inconsistencies in his history sufficient to undermine expert opinions.
Judge Rosa also seems to put blame on him for being denied services. Judge Rosa wrote, "The claimant's participation in vocational rehabilitation has been of poor quality and quantity. He appeared at one appointment only, and did not call or appear at several others before he was discharged form the program." The truth is the staff member assigned to his case called him after his first session and asked him not to come back. He called her and asked why, she said she needed to wait for documents to arrive so that she could determine his eligibility. It was a total about face from the application process after which she invited him to a group orientation or so he thought. Some months later he received a voicemail stating that his records could not be located or that what could be located was not sufficient to support allowing him back. She never sent him anything in writing. To this day he has no idea why Voc. Rehab suddenly uninvited him from their program, but suspects that he may have made program participants and staff uncomfortable by talking about his criminal history which includes violent offenses. This situation supports the conclusion that he is too disabled for Voc. Rehab not that he flaked out due to some lazy disinterest in working. His history has all the indications of someone with an incurable condition whose exhausted all treatment options.
Judge Rosa spent a lot of time trying to find statements made by unqualified people inconsistent with his, but never bothered to look beyond the face of his most recent set of release conditions for impeachment value. For instance, she refuted a claim that he was banned from a specific activity for a significant period of time by pointing out that his most recent set of conditions did not ban him from the activity without bothering to look at prior conditions which clearly banned from the activity for many years. She even used a standard condition of release which requires everyone on supervision to look for work unless excused by probation to refute the condition requiring him to seek disability benefits. She concluded that the court's opinion as to his disability status could not be determined by his conditions because they were at odds with each other. To support her position she cited a letter submitted by his probation officer in support of his application for benefits because it did not specifically state that he had been excused from the work requirement. Had she spent a fraction of the time she spent reviewing old notes from unqualified people familiarizing herself with how federal supervision works she could have figured out that someone could not successfully complete over two years of supervision without being charged with a violation had he not been excused form the requirement.
A fair judge would allow herself to be persuaded by more qualified opinions. For instance, instead of saying something like, "his treatment notes do not support the finding of any greater limitations," a fair judge would say something like, "his treatment notes are not persuasive because they were written by people less qualified than the doctors supporting his claim."
Judge Rosa puts forth far greater effort to disqualify applicants than she does reviewing all the evidence. It seems that all it takes for her to disqualify someone is a few contradictory statements from anyone regardless of their qualifications. A fair judge would not spend so much time delving into someone's history looking for inconsistencies with an applicant's statements no matter how unqualified the source and so little time doing basic research capable of supporting his claims. The fact that the two worst judges in the area both live under the same roof suggests a shared bias against applicants.
Update: Home address redacted due to retirement.