Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Opinion

October 12, 2013

May lose license

Congressional report levels allegations at Eric C. Conn

ASHLAND — Is “Mr. Social Security” — a.k.a. attorney Eric C. Conn — on the verge of being disbarred? Maybe, and if the allegations made against Conn and a retired Social Security judge in West Virginia in a congressional report are proven to be even partially accurate, losing his law license may be among the least of Conn’s worries.

Conn quietly closed his law office in Ashland earlier this year, but during the months he had an office located at Winchester Avenue and Martin Luthern King. Jr. Boulevard just off the Ben Williamson Memorial, employees of Conn filed claims for Social Security benefits on behalf of scores of local residents. But the report raises serious questions about just how legitimate was Conn’s work in Ashland and other offices he maintained throughout Eastern Kentucky.  Conn continues to have an office in Stanville, near Kentucky’s border’s with West Virginia.

According to the congressional report, retired administrative law Judge David B. Daugherty schemed with Conn to approve more than 1,800 cases from 2006 and 2010.

“By 2011, Mr. Conn and Judge Daugherty had collaborated on a scheme that enabled the judge to approve, in assembly-line fashion, hundreds of clients for disability benefits using manufactured medical evidence,” said the report by the staff of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

“The report describes how one lawyer (Conn), several judges and a group of doctors took advantage of the situation and exploited the program for their own personal benefit,” Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said in a committee hearing. “Together, they moved hundreds of claimants onto the disability rolls based on manufactured medical evidence and boilerplate decisions. As a result they saw millions of dollars flow their way, promotions at work and had bad behavior ignored.”

Daugherty, who was a judge based in Huntington, retired in 2011 after questions were raised about his relationship with Conn, the report said.

According to the report, the Social Security Administration paid Conn’s firm more than $4.5 million in attorney fees from cases heard by Daugherty from 2006 to 2010. In 2010, Conn was the third highest-paid disability lawyer in the country, the report said.

To be fair, neither Daugherty nor Conn have yet to be charged with any crimes, but the allegations are serious enough to raise more than a few questions.

Questions about Daugherty’s relationship with Conn were first raised by The Wall Street Journal in 2011.

Nearly 11 million disabled workers, spouses and children get Social Security disability benefits. That’s a 45 percent increase from a decade ago. The average monthly benefit for a disabled worker is $1,130. An additional 8.3 million people get Supplemental Security Income, a separately funded disability program for low-income people. In order to qualify, people are supposed to have disabilities that prevent them from working and are expected to last at least a year or result in death.

Social Security disability claims are first processed through a network of local Social Security Administration field offices and state agencies called Disability Determination Services. About two-thirds of initial claims are rejected, according to agency statistics. If your claim is rejected, you can ask the field office or state agency to reconsider. If your claim is rejected again, you can appeal to an administrative law judge, who is employed by Social Security, and filing such appeals accounted for the bulk of what Conn did.

A Kentucky Bar Association official says the agency is reviewing accusations about the relationship between Daugherty and Conn. Thomas Glover, chief bar counsel, told the Lexington Herald-Leader that the agency is “looking at” the allegations against Conn that could affect his license if proven true.

We’re not saying that all the claims filed by Conn on behalf of area residents were improper. In fact, we lack the expertise to determine the legitimacy of an individual claim. But the allegations clearly indicate that Conn was more interested in lining his pockets than he was in effectively representing his clients.

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