The Justice & Diversity Center (JDC) is pleased to recognize Paul Hastings attorneys Elizabeth Dorsi and Michael Stevens as our volunteers of the month for their work with JDC’s Medical-Legal Project. Dorsi and Stevens each represented clients in Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) overpayment cases.
Dorsi’s client was facing a $38,000 overpayment of his SSDI benefits. Already struggling financially, he was distressed by the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) confusing and often conflicting notices about the overpayment and his benefits. After a request from JDC’s Medical-Legal Project Supervising Attorney, Marie Appel, Dorsi willingly took the case about one month prior to the hearing before the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). She sorted through the client’s SSA file with him to figure out what had happened, submitted a detailed letter brief explaining what happened, and represented the client at the hearing. While the ALJ found there had been an overpayment, she found the overpayment should be waived because the client was not at fault and that the client was due a refund of $1,178 that he had paid toward the overpayment.
Stevens represented a disabled senior in his appeal of the SSA’s determination that he had been overpaid Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits by approximately $6,000. The SSA was recovering the claimed “overpayment” by reducing the client’s monthly retirement benefits. After taking the case, Stevens sorted through the evidence and determined there had been an overpayment but it was not the client’s fault. The client had always been forthright about reporting his minimal assets and relied on the SSA’s determinations that he was eligible for SSI. Stevens submitted two letter briefs and represented the client at a hearing before the ALJ, and is awaiting a decision on whether the SSA will waive the overpayment.
Both Dorsi and Stevens are civil litigators at Paul Hastings. The firm is a strong supporter of the JDC Medical-Legal Project at St. Mary’s Sister Mary Philippa Health Center. The Medical-Legal Project’s goal is to address legal issues that impact patients’ lives so the legal problems do not interfere with patients’ healthcare, and ultimately, overall health.
Dorsi found working on her case fulfilling because: “Knowing that I was helping my client sort out a critical component of his livelihood, and that he appreciated my efforts, was a great reward.” Volunteering gives her “a hands-on opportunity to interact with and represent clients, manage a case and learn to be a problem solver,” all of which help her to become a better litigator.
Stevens notes that when SSI recipients’ benefits are reduced, it jeopardizes their housing and sustenance: “It is humbling to serve people who so desperately need legal assistance, but also very rewarding to help them.” For Stevens, volunteering is “a great way to give back to the community, while getting to know lawyers and judges outside your own firm.”
Both Dorsi and Stevens are California natives. When not practicing law, Dorsi enjoys traveling, hiking and scuba diving, and Stevens, when not traveling to places such as Spain or Sweden, enjoys visiting the Japantown Kabuki Theater with his husband.