A federal administrative law judge said today that in the past four years, there have been more than 200 threats, including death threats, against ALJs and that there is not enough being done to ensure that judges who hear administrative cases are adequately protected.
D. Randall Frye, a North Carolina-based ALJ with the Social Security Administration and president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges, said, “These aren’t just the kind of ‘I’ll see you later’ threats.” As an example, Frye pointed to an instance where a claimant assaulted an ALJ with a chair, forcing her to take disability retirement.
Frye’s remarks came at panel discussion at the National Press Club designed to raise awareness of the threats against ALJs and to ask Congress to set aside more funding for their protection.
Frye said small hearing rooms, too few security guards, a lack of metal detectors, and highly emotional cases make for a dangerous combination. Because Social Security hearings are often held in rented commercial office space, Frye said many courtrooms are “no larger than an average bedroom.”
Frye called on Congress to provide additional funding to the Federal Protective Service, which provides security to ALJs, and to pay for larger spaces for courtrooms. Frye said that additional metal detectors and higher railings could also offer ALJs more protection from irate claimants.
Frye was joined by Dana Marks, a San Francisco-based immigration judge with the Justice Department; and Mark Brown, a St. Louis-based ALJ at the Social Security Administration.
Brown, who serves as chairman of the safety and health committee of the Association of Administrative Law Judges, said that installing metal detectors in administrative law courtrooms could be done for about $500,000 total. But he added that his organization has made little headway in securing the necessary funding because “there is a concern that if we install them in our courtrooms, we’ll have to install them in the 1,300 field offices across the country. That was a much different matter.”
Marks, who is president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, said the decisions that immigration judges “are often life-or-death” because when an individual is ordered to be removed from the United States they may be forced to return to a country where their lives are in danger. “Understandably, that can be incredibly stressful,” Marks said.
Marks said there are often as many as 50 people in her courtroom and no baliff. “We’re making decisions in real time, sitting eye-to-eye with the claimant. If I order someone removed [from the United States], I may be riding the elevator with them the next minute,” Marks said.
Marks said the National Association of Immigration Judges is arguing to have immigration courts moved out from under the Justice Department umbrella and reorganized into a separate Article I court. “There is a concern that people don’t see us as independent because we are an arm of the Justice Department. They see us as too closely affiliated with the prosecution,” she said.