The National Organization of Social Security Claimants (NOSSCR) reported that some of its members are being forced to screen prospective clients seeking representation in federal court after changes were made to the law that deprive lawyers of receiving fees, in some cases.
Under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), some disabled citizens are able to pursue Social Security benefits denied to them by the federal government. The act was created to allow impoverished individuals to sue the government, even if they couldn’t afford to hire an attorney to assist them. The act helped these individuals by awarding attorneys’ fees as part of a settlement in a winning case.
However, the Supreme Court upheld a decision (http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=12201163316551010265&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr) that any fees awarded under this act must be paid directly to the injured party, rather than the attorney. The ruling also said that when plaintiffs were found to owe the federal government for another matter, these fees could be garnished to satisfy the debt – regardless of whether the attorney had been paid for services or not.
The result is that many people who were formerly offered some assistance to pursue claims against the government are now being hampered by the government to get the representation they need. Many NOSSCR members are reporting that they are forced to screen prospective clients to find out if they have federal debts before they commit to represent them and avoid risking loss of the attorney fees.
In some cases, awards that were previously made to provide legal assistance are now being stripped to pay back other debts – debts that may have been accumulated because the government has denied these people their rightful compensation in the first place.
Because this effect could result in some citizens being limited in their ability to get counsel, the Commissioner of Social Security Administration is authorized to request an exemption to the rule for EAJA fees. However, we know of no exemptions that have been made, and in our opinion, such an exemption is unlikely.
The Supreme Court decision is a tragedy that is playing out in ways that are depriving disabled, poor and often elderly citizens from getting the justice that they may need. The Law Offices of James Scott Farrin encourages all those who have experienced a denial of social security disability claims or knows a loved one who has to call your representative to demand legislative changes that ensure all citizens truly do have equal access to justice by being able to hire an attorney to represent them.