Social Security judges facing increasing threats of violence
Tuesday, January 11, 2011; 10:50 PM
Losing Social Security disability benefits can be devastating. Potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in benefits can disappear if an administrative law judge rules against those fighting to get money they think they're due.
Most people who lose cases accept defeat. Some choose to fight dirty.
After Larry Butler, an administrative law judge, ruled against a woman in Shreveport, La., last year, she wouldn't take no for an answer.
Latonya Kemp was on the short end of Butler's ruling. She was accused of retaliating, according to a criminal complaint filed in Shreveport by a federal agent, by making profanity-laced phone calls to Butler's home and sending harassing messages there through the mail.
"Judges get threatened quite often," Butler said. "What concerned me was when they started threatening my kids by name and my wife."
In one message, left on the office phone of Butler's co-worker, Kemp said, "Me and you and Judge Butler, we have a date with death and we won't be late," according to the agent's affidavit.
She was arrested before she could keep that date.
If only Jared Loughner could have been stopped before he allegedly kept a date with death. Loughner is accused in the shootings that left six dead, including a federal judge, and 14 wounded in Tucson on Saturday. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) clings to life after being shot in the head.
That orgy of violence has drawn attention to security issues surrounding federal employees. One group of workers for whom threats are an increasing problem are Social Security employees, especially the agency's administrative law judges.
"The Social Security Administration takes the security of its employees and the public very seriously," said a statement issued by the agency's press office. "Our security measures provide a high level of safety for our offices."
That's not quite the way the Association of Administrative Law Judges sees it.
The union says there were 50 reports of violent threats against judges and Social Security offices during the latest six-month reporting period. Compare that half-year figure with the total 106 threats recorded for the 31/2-year period ending in February 2005.