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Boro residents sue SS judges on claims

Boro residents sue SS judges on claims
Emilia Sicilia (l.) and Ian Feldman are both part of the Mental Health Project at the Urban Justice Center and will be working on the lawsuit against five Queens judges. Photo courtesy Urban Justice Center
By Joe Anuta

A group of Queens residents has filed a class-action lawsuit alleging five judges in the borough are biased against disabled residents and consistently deny applicants Social Security benefits.

The lawsuit, filed by eight residents, claims five judges contribute to the third-highest denial rate in the country and the highest in the state.

“People with severe disabilities are being unfairly denied benefits,” said Eve Stotland of the Urban Justice Center. “As a result, we have Queens residents that are sleeping on trains.”

The U.S. Social Security Administration and judges declined to comment for this article.

The five judges mentioned in the suit, which constitute a majority of the eight administrative law justices for Social Security claims in the borough, each hear 150 cases annually and deny benefits to up to 80 percent of applicants, according to the complaint.

The judges mentioned in the suit are David Nisnewitz, Michael Cofresi, Seymour Fier, Marilyn P. Hoppenfeld and Hazel C. Strauss.

“Some [attorneys] have seen language bias, where judges express disbelief that people could have lived in the United States for 20 or 30 years and not speak English,” Stotland said. “But any Queens resident knows you can go to Flushing and be the only person that doesn’t speak Chinese.”

In one specific case, Judith Blumensohn, a plaintiff represented by her court-appointed guardian, had suffered from mental illness since her childhood, but was denied certain benefits she was clearly eligible for under the law, according to Stotland.

In another case, Julia Juan, another plaintiff in the suit said Nisnewitz verbally berated a state employee who testified that Juan was too injured to work.

The Urban Justice Center, along with the corporate law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, are filing the sui, and working pro bono for the eight plaintiffs after Stotland decided to pursue the problem.

“This has been common knowledge among people with disabilities and their legal advocates for decades,” she said.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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