Federal judge speaks out about shutdown

Posted at: 09/30/2013 10:24 PM
By: Caleb James, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Judge Randy Frye
Judge Randy Frye

With the government shutdown now happening, many New Mexicans' lives are hanging in the balance.

No one knows that better than a judge who hears from people trying to get Social Security disability checks.

It's rare for those federal judges to talk to reporters, but on Monday one of them talked to KOB Eyewitness News 4.

Judge Randy Frye is in Santa Fe for a conference of judges who hear Social Security disability cases.

He knows the wait for those folks is already long.

Today he told KOB if they have to wait even longer because of a shutdown, it could be tragic.

"It could be life or death," said Frye. "This is going to add more to that problem."

Frye knows more than most what time can mean to someone who needs medical treatment.

"It's not infrequent that a judge will go to the courtroom and the claimant's not there, because death came before the hearing," said Frye.

That's Frye's reality now -- something he faces often even before the reality of a government shutdown sets in. But now, things get really scary.

"We have thousands of people who process the disability cases at the initial stages up to a hearing," he explained. "That starts a year in advance, before a case gets to a judge. Those cases are not going to be processed."

Before a claim makes it to Frye's courtroom there are months, even a year of processing keeping it in the back room. He says even if staff is furloughed for say -- 4 days -- that could mean 30 days of delay for a claimant.

Frye says a lot can happen in 30 days.

"It's almost routine now with disability cases, you'll get a statement from a landlord that will say I'm going to evict this family if they don't come up with their past rent," said Frye.

Without their government assistance, many people can't come up with that money.

"Lot of folks are homeless," said Frye. 

Frye says in those cases, judges try to get the claimants to a hearing as quickly as possible, but there's only so much they can do.   

He hears cases in North Carolina, and is one of over a hundred judges affected directly by the shutdown in Santa Fe for a conference this week.

He said those judges pay for the conference out-of-pocket.