Editorial Cartoon

Former attorney Eric C. Conn’s actions over the years resulted in him spending time in prison, from which he’s currently not scheduled to be released until 2041.

It’s easy to see the results of Conn’s actions as “Mr. Social Security/SSI” on Conn himself. He’s lost it all — the money, the fame.

But there’s another impact of Eric Conn’s actions that’s not always easy to see — the negative effects he had on the lives of all who used his legal “services.”

Certainly, some were drawn to use Conn’s services for less-than-noble purposes. After all, as it later came to be known, Conn had gamed the system to such a degree that it was nearly impossible for him to lose a case. That was an attractive option, even for those whose cases may have been a slam-dunk had they taken them to the Social Security Administration without an attorney.

So, while the assumption would be that, while perhaps some had used Conn’s services to avoid the correct procedures, it’s also a safe assumption that many others had simply gone to him because of his incessant advertising campaigns and reputation for “Getting the job done.”

However, that’s clearly not the assumption under which the SSA was working. As Conn’s fraud came to light and his world came crashing down around him, those who had gone to “Mr. Social Security/SSI” also saw their lives come to a screeching halt.

Instead of going through a process of determining which of Conn’s clients were actually disabled and which were not, the SSA suspended the benefits of Conn’s clients who were receiving disability benefits without much more than a notice, and certainly with no investigations and hearings.

Judges at the federal court level have since ruled that the actions of the SSA unconstitutional in legal battles on which the livelihood of thousands of people remain in limbo.

The SSA published a notice on the federal register this month, explaining how the ruling in one of those cases from a Floyd County resident and others like her who lost disability, will impact that agency’s disability rulings in the future.

In that notice, the SSA reported that it must provide people a chance to object when the SSA disregards evidence in their cases. It also stated that it can disregard evidence when it has reason to believe fraud existed in the case, and that “it is not necessary that the affected beneficiary or recipient had knowledge of or participated in the fraud” for evidence to be disregarded.  

Prestonsburg Attorney Ned Pillersdorf, one of the attorneys representing former Conn clients in a myriad of legal battles with the SSA, called this notice the “height of bureaucratic arrogance.” He believes the assertions made by the SSA in the notice mirror the stance the SSA took in the Floyd County case, and he believes the agency is trying to get that ruling overturned by a higher court. He said it’s unfair to require Conn’s former clients to “travel back in time” to prove their disability without being allowed to use their evidence disregarded by the SSA.

No. It wasn’t right for Conn to con so many people. It wasn’t right for him to defraud the U.S. of millions of taxpayer dollars. And if people did abuse the system, we all agree that is not right, either. But it’s also not right that the people who had no knowledge of his crimes, for people who were not part of it, to have to pay for Conn’s mistakes as well. They should not have to travel back in time, as Pillersdorf puts it, to prove anything, especially if they can’t use the evidence they had all those years ago.

Instead of digging up old bones and continuing the legal mumbo-jumbo with these old cases, which are unfair, the SSA should save the funds it’s spending on them and move forward. The integrity of the system today rests in what’s happening today, not what happened 14 years ago. If people are forced to travel back in time to prove themselves, then their hearings should be straight and fair, not slanted in favor of a man that we’re embarrassed to call a Floyd Countian.

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