Of late my practice has noticed an uptick in the use of telephone hearings in Maryland unemployment appeals. I don’t know whether my perception reflects the larger reality of the practice, but it seems lately that the Maryland Unemployment Insurance Appeals Division is using them more. Further, it appears that the Division is using them even when the Claimant lives in Maryland and is willing to travel, and even when there is video evidence which cannot easily be faxed beforehand or viewed during the hearing. In some cases, the Claimant is marked as “out of state” even when she lives in e.g. Bel Air or Taneytown, Maryland and is within 15-20 miles of a hearing location in one or more counties.
I have found the Division somewhat resistant to offering a live hearing as an alternative once a telephone hearing has been scheduled, even upon specific request with a detailed proffer or reference from the Fact-Finding Report of the claims specialist to the existence of video evidence – even when I have subpoenaed that evidence!
The most that one can do, it seems, is to “paper” the record repeatedly so that the failure to grant the live hearing becomes a meaningful due process issue for the file as a whole. I view this as unfortunate, as there is no self-evident “administrative economy” purpose to conducting a hearing with a built-in appeals issue for the Board, only to have the Board reverse and remand the case back to Lower Appeals. However, the Lower Appeals Division does have discretion in such matters; balancing the discretion with the need for due process in a particular case is not an easy task.
I mention this primarily for the benefit of junior practitioners representing workers including my attorney-mentees: be aware, be vigilant and document your file – both the file with the Division and your own file.