Feds Paid Judge for 4 Years After Arrest for Drunken Assault

Judge earned $500,000 from SSA during paid leave

Social Security supporters attend a rally
Social Security supporters attend a rally / Getty Images

The Social Security Administration paid a judge for four years after he was arrested for assault, costing taxpayers $500,000.

The inspector general for the administration released an audit last week documenting abuses of the paid time off system. The audit identified 46 federal employees who received an average of 2,000 hours of paid administrative leave over a seven-year period.

On average, the employees were paid for 261 days to not work, which amounts to a full employment year.

In one egregious case, an administrative law judge (ALJ) was paid for 865.75 days after he was arrested for drunkenly assaulting a female security officer. The judge still earned his roughly $125,000 salary while he was suspended.

"Several factors can extend the length of time an employee remains on administrative leave, such as the legal procedures the Agency must complete before suspending or removing an employee, or when officials exercise discretion and allow employees to remain on administrative leave while the Agency investigates their misconduct," the inspector general explained.

The inspector general found 12 cases where administrative leave was granted to ALJs it "intended to remove for misconduct or poor performance."

"Federal law provides ALJs special privileges," the inspector general said. "To suspend an ALJ without pay or terminate an ALJ's employment, SSA must establish good cause on the record and offer an opportunity for a hearing before the [Merit Systems Protection Board] MSPB. SSA's Office of General Counsel interprets these provisions to apply until the ALJ has exhausted all appeals before the MSPB, a lengthy process that can result in grants of thousands of hours of administrative leave."

"For example, in July 2012, while on duty and under the influence of alcohol, an ALJ assaulted a female security guard in an SSA hearing office," the inspector general said. "The next day, SSA placed the ALJ on administrative leave. While investigating the incident, law enforcement identified a second woman the ALJ assaulted in the hearing office in June 2011."

The judge was arrested for the two assaults in November 2012, but was not fired until four years later. The judge pleaded guilty to one count of assault in January 2013, and was sentenced to three months house arrest and two years of probation.

After his sentencing, the agency filed a proposal with the Merit Systems Protection Board to fire the judge. The board "found good cause for the ALJ's removal" in October 2014, but the judge appealed the decision, further drawing out the case. The final order from the board was not reached until March 22, 2016, and the judge was taken off administrative leave and fired.

The government was also forced to pay $50,000 to the assaulted security guard in a settlement.

"SSA paid this individual more than $500,000 in salary during his 6,926 hours on administrative leave," the inspector general said.

The agency also allowed other employees to take paid leave while they were being investigated for misconduct. In one case, an employee received paid leave for a year even though he was demonstrating "threatening, intimidating, offensive, and disruptive behavior."

"In cases that did not involve ALJs, instead of immediately using indefinite suspension provisions for alleged misconduct, Agency officials exercised their discretion and authority and allowed employees to remain on administrative leave pending completion of investigations into the alleged misconduct," the inspector general explained. "For example, SSA placed a field office employee on administrative leave in March 2014 because of threatening, intimidating, offensive, and disruptive behavior. After an Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and Office of General Counsel investigation verified the misconduct, SSA terminated his employment in March 2015."

"The employee received 1,616 hours of administrative leave before SSA terminated his employment," the inspector general said, or 202 full-time days.