Don’t re-victimize Eric Conn’s clients

Published 1:12 pm Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The Social Security Administration was slow to halt corruption within its own ranks, but has been eager to penalize Kentuckians who were victimized by their crooked, now-imprisoned lawyer, Eric Conn, and the Social Security judge who pocketed Conn’s bribes.

A new round of redetermination hearings has begun for almost 2,000 former Conn clients. The SSA should delay the hearings until the outcome of two things are known:

– The discovery earlier this year of thousands of records at Conn’s office that might help clients prove they were disabled when they were approved for benefits — if only they could gain access to their files.

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– An appeal to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals that could entitle almost 800 people to a reconsideration of their benefits terminations. That ruling could guide how the SSA handles Conn clients’ cases in the future.

The Kentucky Bar Association, whose actions during the Conn saga are almost as puzzling as those of the SSA, continues to disappoint. First the KBA was slow to discipline Conn and protect the public from his unethical conduct. More recently, the KBA refused to help get the files from his closed law office into clients’ hands.

The KBA has a procedure for distributing records to clients after an attorney dies or is disbarred. The U.S. Justice Department asked the KBA to activate that process and take control of the 6,000 to 8,000 files at Conn’s office in Floyd County.

The KBA refused.

Then, because of what the Justice Department described as the KBA’s “complete abdication of responsibility,” a federal prosecutor asked U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves to appoint a receiver to take charge of the records. The Justice Department recommended former state Supreme Court justice Janet Stumbo for the task.

But because Stumbo is married to attorney Ned Pillersdorf, who has been the leading advocate for Conn’s clients, Reeves instead ordered the government to submit the names of at least three potential receivers. Reeves scheduled an Oct. 10 hearing.

At this rate, hundreds of people could lose their benefits before they have a chance to see their files.

The existence of the records came to light in April when someone sent Pillersdorf a video of what appeared to be thousands of files.

Conn famously burned paper records and computers when he felt the law on his trail. That led clients to assume their files had been destroyed. While Conn had no need to submit medical evidence — after all, he had paid off the judge — clients did undergo medical exams and not always by doctors who later were deemed to have been in cahoots with Conn. To keep their benefits and potentially avoid having to repay the government hundreds of thousands of dollars, clients must prove they were disabled when they first were awarded benefits. Information in the files might help them do that.

Some of Conn’s clients no doubt knew that they were defrauding Social Security because they were not disabled. The great majority, though, just hired the lawyer who had plastered billboards and other advertising all over their hometowns. No Social Security beneficiary has been charged with fraud in the Conn case.

The SSA insists it has no choice but to hold redetermination hearings, even though there would be no objections — only applause — if SSA treated the Conn clients fairly by giving them more time.

Lexington Herald-Leader