Jul 26, 2015

The Mess In Kentucky

     From the Lexington Herald-Leader:
Dexter Conn needs a lawyer. So do 1,500 of his neighbors.
The 57-year-old from Dana is one of the 1,500 people, mostly in eastern Kentucky, whose federal disability benefits are in jeopardy after the federal government ordered a review of cases handled by attorney Eric Conn. Now those cases are likely headed to hearings before administrative law judges that could start as soon as September.
All of those people need attorneys, and most of them can't afford one. ...
One problem is the attorneys likely will not be paid. In many Social Security cases, applicants are often awarded benefits dating back to the time they became disabled. In some cases that could be up to a year or more of benefits, money often used to pay attorney's fees. But these cases don't have that possibility because they are reviews of existing awards. ...
So far, 80 attorneys have volunteered to help. But [Robert] Johns [Executive Director of the Appalachian Research and Defense Fund of Kentucky] said the "vast majority" have no experience handling Social Security benefit cases, which require extensive knowledge of federal law and regulations while juggling mountains of medical records. Training them will take time. ...
    And before someone raises the questions, let me answer it. No, it's not reasonable to expect the local Social Security attorneys to represent all these people pro bono. It's a rural area. There can't be that many local Social Security attorneys. Every Social Security attorney in the country is struggling to survive in a difficult environment. I'm sure that's the case in Kentucky as well. These attorneys can't drop everything they're doing for the next two years to clean up a mess they didn't create. And, no, it's not reasonable to expect attorneys from other parts of the country to step in and represent these claimants. That's impractical. I'm supposed to not only represent these folks pro bono but spend money to travel to Kentucky? Be realistic.

13 comments:

Dan Smith said...

I've expressed this in previous comments but I'd be willing to take on some cases pro bono provided:
1) the ALJ would permit an appearance via telephone or videoconference considering the special circumsatnces in these cases
2) the claimants would take responsibilty for collecting their own medical records (which should be free per KY law)

Someone responded that "pro bono does not mean half-assed", but in my experience this level of representation wouldnt differ greatly from that of some of the big national firms. I'm curious what Mr. Hall's take on that is.

I'm a struggling solo practitioner myself so i understand not wanting to work for free. On the other hand, these claimants are in many ways innocent victims in a firefight between different adversaries, one of which is certainly claimants' reps as a whole.

Anonymous said...

SSA presided over this mess. They should make an attempt to fix it even handedly. They could streamline a fee petition scenario and pay for travel for pro bono representatives. I have always had a percentage of pro bono claimants and expect this is true of many reps. I would be glad to represent one of these claimants if given an opportunity to review the merits of the case on a pro bono or expedited fee petition basis. I realize that is unlikely now. However, there is a class action suit and SSA should be considering ways to settle because they are going to loose.

Anonymous said...

Dan Smith for COSS.

Anonymous said...

What is it that makes you think SSA is going to lose?

Counsel for the "class action" did not even know he needed a motion to certify class to make it a class action and at any length, that motion has not yet been approved. Despite the fact that 1500 people received similar letters, each case is wrought with major differences making a class certification impractical.

What about those that had already undergone a CDR and were found to be disabled by SSA? Do they still fit in with the group who has not been reviewed?

Anonymous said...

"And, no, it's not reasonable to expect attorneys from other parts of the country to step in and represent these claimants. That's impractical. I'm supposed to not only represent these folks pro bono but spend money to travel to Kentucky? Be realistic."

Is there anyone out there who is coordinating pro-bono cases for this fiasco?

These people are in a world of hurt.

Anonymous said...

@1:41 here.

I should have rephrased this.

Is there anyone who is coordinating a *nationwide* effort of *people who know what they are doing*?

Meaning NOSSCR or somebody else?

Anonymous said...

NOSSCR has indeed volunteered it's services to help. From what I can gather they are currently recruiting volunteer attorneys.

Anonymous said...

Glad to hear that NOSSCR is getting involved - I hadn't heard anything. I know that my firm, along with other sustaining members of NOSSCR, would be willing to help. If the opportunity to help using Dan's parameters above were in place, we could pitch in. But because we're not in KY, it would have to be via VTC or phone conference. But with digital access to the claimant's file, we could give competent representation. Besides being the right thing to do, NOSSCR and Social Security disability attorneys could use some positive press, especially in the current environment.

Anonymous said...

So why isn't Conn representing his clients in these matters? "Mr. Social Security" still has an active practice. His website lists 3 attorneys in the practice. If each took on 500 of these cases, and spent the next year working on them, the issue would be resolved.

If anyone should bear the burden of not earning any fees on these cases, it should be his firm.

Anonymous said...

If you would like to volunteer to assist, you can also call Mary Going at the Appalachian Research & Defense Fund of KY, INC., at (606)886-3876, x.1315.

The SSA is going to lose, because it is wrong. The folks they have targeted are disabled. Most never met Eric Conn before their disability hearings, much less did they collude with Conn and the judges and doctors with whom he is alleged to have colluded. Conn's fraud was one of getting the people through faster, to make more money. The clients were innocent.

No, Conn has steadfastly refused to help or even to provide copies of client files. Most of his client files were burned and shredded when he found out he was the subject of a Senate investigation. Conn's clients have been caught in the middle.

Anonymous said...

The SSA has not "targeted" these folks by tossing out fraudulent medical source statements. Whether they are "innocent" is beside the point. The point is that the SSA requires claimants to prove that they are disabled before they are entitled to receive disability benefits. If the SSA later discovers that the proof was fraudulent, then it means that the claimants never met their burden. In other words, all of the benefits they have received to date are ill-gotten gains, regardless of whether they actively participated in the fraud.

I do have a question for the folks pointing out that some of the affected claimants have already undergone CDRs and been found disabled... Did those CDRs occur before or after the SSA tossed out the fraudulent medical source statements? That distinction matters.

As for 9:08 PM's comment that "Conn's fraud was one of getting the people through faster," you are seriously understating the consequences of his scheme. Basic probability and statistics would tell you that Conn obtained benefits for some people who would not have met the standard for disability without the fraudulent evidence. Assuming that all of the affected recipients would have been found disabled eventually costs you a lot of credibility.

Anonymous said...

If 9:08 is correct that Conn shredded client files, the Kentucky State Bar should investigate for possible sanctions--unless Kentucky's ethics rules do not set a period for which an attorney has to maintain client files. In NC the State Bar requires us to keep client files for 6 years following the last transaction/interaction involved in the case. Early destruction of files--especially if it acts to the detriment of the client, could be an ethical violation.

Anonymous said...

Kentucky has no such rule.