With Seconds To Spare, it’s Judgment Day


I just filed a 39-page brief in a United States District Court appeal of a Social Security Disability case.  This case is about a little boy  diagnosed with ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder.  I have been working on this case since 2011, when my client was 8 years old.  We went to a hearing and got an unfavorable decision in 2011, which I appealed to the interim agency.  Lost that appeal, then went to U.S. District Court where I won a reversal and remand.  We had a second hearing in July of 2013 and got another unfavorable decision from the same judge, making the same errors she made the first time.  I had to appeal to U.S. District Court again in October 2013, and now the brief, or Memorandum of Law, has been filed.  The deadline is 30 minutes from now.

This is my explanation for a hasty post today.  My brain is fried.  Writing a brief is not just writing.  You have to cite to pages of the court record for every point you make.  So if I say, “Joey was diagnosed with ADHD,” I have to note every page on which that diagnosis appeared.  Because of the many back and forths in this case, the record is over 1000 pages long.  So writing the legal stuff was a breeze compared to citing to the court record.

To make life more interesting, I decided to work on this at home, where there would be no interruptions (except from the insane dogs, including Billy who barks at THE PRINTER every time I print something, as though he has never heard that sound before).  I do this a lot, especially when I have to write something that requires a lot of detail like this brief.  I have a remote hookup to the office from home, which works fine 99.9% of the time, but NOT TODAY.  I got an email from the IT dude saying, “Citrix is broken, you won’t be able to work from home,” so I quickly copied and pasted the brief from the work version of Word to the home version of Word, about 2 seconds before the connection was lost.  It wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but it would have involved a 45 minute drive to the office, where I would have stayed until the wee hours, since I just finished.  Luckily I was able to finish the brief and re-teach myself how to electronically file it from home in the nick of time.  It is nothing short of miraculous, to me anyway, to click on a link online and see my fancy brief appear in all its glory, 10 seconds after I e-filed it.  What an amazing world we live in.

This case is actually relevant to CTWMs and Judgment-Free Parenthood.  I have written previously about the problems I face in getting educated middle class judges to have some insight into the lives of poor people who have had limited opportunities for education and advancement.  This case is a classic example of that battle.

The mother of this little boy is hearing-impaired, speech-impaired, mildly cognitively impaired, and somewhat histrionic.  She testified that her son is “killing” her, because she has high blood pressure and he upsets her so much.  I could see the judge’s mood change before my eyes, and sure enough, she ripped the mother a new one in her decision, griping that the mother talked more about herself than about her son.  The judge went on to lambaste her for her “poor parenting skills,” implying that the kid would not be so messed up if it weren’t for the mother’s deficiencies.

I find this so painful and offensive that I barely have the words to describe it.  I have a child who had ADHD, who got suspended because he was impulsive and had a temper, used foul language at times, and didn’t always demonstrate the best judgment.  EVERYBODY knows that when your behavior problems are related to your diagnosed disability, you’re not supposed to be disciplined for the manifestation of that disability, right?  Well, I just found a letter from 2000, from me to the Hamden Public Schools Superintendent, about my son having to serve a day of suspension when I specifically told the school NOT to impose the suspension until I could speak to the authorities.  The letter to the Superintendent was so full of my outrage that it almost burst into flames in my hand as I shared it with the son in question, who visited on Saturday.  It brought back a lot of painful memories for both of us:  my son because he was reliving an unpleasant time in his life, and me because I was once again confronted with a complete disregard for justice, legal principles and rules that educators should know well.

So my kid acted up because someone pushed him first.   Does that make me a mother with “poor parenting skills”?  According to the judge in my appeal it does.  My son would not be manifesting his ADHD symptoms if I had been better at setting limits and enforcing disciplinary rules, according to her way of thinking.  I respectfully disagree (and not so respectfully in the privacy of my home!).  We had plenty of rules and limits in our family.  He had a diagnosed condition and under stress (kid pushing him), it came leaping out.  Does anyone think that if I were a better mother, my other son would not be nearsighted and need glasses?  Of course not.

It’s pretty sad to face the fact that judging other people’s parenting styles/skills is not only hurtful and mean-spirited, it is done professionally by learned people who should know better, but who wield vast governmental power that can destroy people’s lives.  In Social Security Disability, it’s about federal income for the person who wins, but early in my career I represented people who were having their parental rights terminated.  In those cases, The Honorable Judge Middleclass-Snobbish, with the stroke of a pen, would tell a mom that her unkempt home and empty refrigerator meant that her child was being taken from her forever.

I understand that we can’t have a court system that is judgment-free.  The system is designed to produce decisions/judgments.  But we could do a much better job of teaching decision-makers what other cultures and lifestyles are like, instead of allowing them to impose their own values on the hapless victims of circumstance.

Sorry to get up on my soapbox, everyone.  I know life’s not fair, but sometimes it seems to be extra unfair.  This is one of those times.



2 comments on “With Seconds To Spare, it’s Judgment Day”

  1. Best quote: “EVERYBODY knows that when your behavior problems are related to your diagnosed disability, you’re not supposed to be disciplined for the manifestation of that disability, right?” I don’t actually think we all know that, which is so much of the problem. If we could truly get this, we would be much, much slower to judge. (If I could remember this in every moment I needed it, I would probably be a bit gentler/more patient with my daughter as well.) Thanks.

    1. All we can do is strive to remember whenever we can. I do feel that having a child with a learning disability diagnosis opened my eyes to other disabilities and how inconsiderate people are in dealing with them. On the other hand, I had a prospective Social Security Disability client come to an interview in a wheelchair with a sad story that had us all crying — then when I looked at his medical records, I learned he goes to the gym 5 times a week and works out on the treadmill. He may have a different disability than the one he presented!

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