Herald-Leader Editorial

Disability lawyer Conn's day in court too long in coming

June 25, 2014 

A billboard for lawyer Eric C. Conn stood on the Mountain Parkway just outside of Salyersville.

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In October, the United States Senate's Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs issued a report, based on two years of investigation, titled: "How Some Legal, Medical, and Judicial Professionals Abused Social Security Disability Programs for the Country's Most Vulnerable: A Case Study of the Conn Law Firm."

That wasn't the first time Floyd County attorney Eric C. Conn had made news.

In 2011, The Wall Street Journal published an investigative report about Conn's excessively chummy relationship with an administrative law judge in the Huntington, W. Va. Social Security office who granted virtually every claim Conn brought before him. CBS' 60 Minutes ran a damning account of Conn's manipulation of the disability system.

Despite all this, no member of Kentucky's congressional delegation has seemed very worked up about Conn.

Earlier this month, when Acting Social Security Commissioner Carolyn W. Colvin appeared before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, it wasn't committee member Thomas Massie, R-Ky., who raised concerns about Conn.

That was left to Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., whose frustration boiled over as she questioned Colvin.

"Eric Conn should not be allowed to represent claimants," in the Social Security system, Speier fumed. She also wrote a letter to Kerry Harvey, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky, asking him to look into Conn's practice.

Speier has reason to be frustrated.

According to the Senate report, the Social Security system paid Conn $22.7 million in attorney's fees between 2001 and 2013.

Conn's problems go further back. He practiced before the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims in the 1990s, until that court investigated him for professional misconduct. He gave up his right to practice before it in 2002.

In 2013, Conn was charged with a felony violation of Kentucky campaign finance laws, and ultimately pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.

Colvin told Speier her agency had been waiting on an investigation by the U.S. attorney in Huntington, W. Va. before beginning administrative efforts to oust Conn. "We have not given up on expecting that we're going to get some criminal prosecutions there."

Later in the hearing she said her agency has begun its own proceedings, noting "three years is too long."

Conn's defense attorney bemoaned Speier's activism, saying, "it's a real tragedy that a politician would try to influence a federal prosecutor's decision."

No, the real tragedy is that Conn continues to collect huge fees from the Social Security system, despite a wealth of evidence that he's worked hard to abuse that system. An equal tragedy is that Kentucky's politicians don't seem to care.

Conn deserves his day in court, free from any taint of politics.

But that day has been too long coming.

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