Persons Present at a Social Security Disability Hearing

A Social Security disability hearing is private. The people present will be the ALJ, the judge’s assistant (usually a part-time outside contractor) who runs the tape recorder, the claimant, claimant’s attorney and any witnesses. Observers may be present only with the permission of the claimant and the ALJ.

Many ALJs allow witnesses to remain in the hearing room during the claimant’s testimony. Some ALJs have all witnesses come into the hearing room and then ask them to leave immediately after completing opening statements and procedural matters. Other ALJs ask witnesses to remain in the waiting area until it is time for their testimony. ALJs who follow the practice of excluding witnesses, sometimes referred to as sequestering witnesses, claim that witnesses who do not hear other testimony may be more credible.

Sometimes a claimant requests that a witness not be present when the claimant is testifying. ALJs have no difficulty accommodating such a request.

In mental impairment cases, the claimant should not be in the hearing room when the claimant’s family and friends are testifying. Claimants with mental impairments can become upset with the sort of testimony their lawyer must elicit in such a case. Witnesses also seem to give better testimony when the claimant is not present because they tend to be more relaxed and candid than when they are worrying about how the claimant is going to take each remark..