Last Monday, the U.S. Senate's Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs released a report on a two-year staff 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."
Released in concert with a five-hour hearing that day on its findings, the lengthy, detailed report into the workings of the Eric C. Conn law firm in Stanville, Ky., reads like an Elmore Leonard novel.
There are secret lists, pre-paid cell phones, buxom beauties, tons of cash, thousands of pounds of shredded documents, "whore doctors" who sign diagnoses cut and pasted from the Internet, secret surveillance and manufactured evidence to discredit a whistle blower, Conn law-firm computer hard drives destroyed with hammers and scorched grass in the back yard where computers were burned.
The day of the Senate hearing, Herald-Leader reporter John Cheves asked Thomas Glover, chief bar counsel at the Kentucky Bar Association, about the status of Conn's license to practice law in Kentucky. "If what is being said is true, that could affect his license. It's too early to say," Glover responded.
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We'd be inclined to agree if Monday had been the first time the slightest whiff of corruption arose from the doublewides that house Conn's thriving practice.
But, in fact, Conn's record is so dicey that, among all the other questions his story gives rise to, one that begs to be answered is this: What does it take to lose your license to practice law in Kentucky?
Conn, a military veteran, opened his law practice in Stanville in 1993. In the early years he practiced before the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. He switched to Social Security disability after he gave up his right to practice before the Veterans Claims Court in 2002, in the wake of an investigation into professional misconduct.
Under the agreement Conn avoided further investigation but also gave up the right to ever be readmitted to appear before that court.
Conn was the subject of another investigation in 2011, this one by the Wall Street Journal, which published a story that May about the relationship between Conn and David B. Daugherty, an administrative law judge in the Huntington, W. Va. Social Security Office of Disability Adjudication and Review. The judge handled a huge volume of appeals, many filed by Conn, and granted benefits in almost every case.
The article reported that staffers and other judges had complained about the relationship between Conn and Daughterty, and that the Social Security Inspector General's Office allegedly had begun an investigation.
Last year, Conn was charged with a felony violation of Kentucky's campaign-finance laws for illegally funneling contributions to the successful 2012 re-election campaign of Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott. Conn pled guilty to a lesser misdemeanor charge.
Sunday night, just before the Senate hearing, CBS' 60 Minutes broadcast its damning account of the Conn-Daugherty relationship.
So, the current count is: dismissed from one federal court; charged with a felony in Kentucky pled down to a misdemeanor; the subject of a painstaking and devastating investigation by a Senate committee as well as a major story by a well-respected publication, and another by television's longest-running investigative news program.
And it's too early to say if this could affect his license?
The Kentucky Supreme Court makes the rules that govern legal discipline in the state. Those rules require a shroud of secrecy that prevents the public from knowing if the KBA has looked into Conn — or any attorney — and administered only a private slap on the wrist, or has simply not looked at all.
The rules protect lawyers who are unjustly accused or who made a mistake, were warned, and held to the straight and narrow ever after.
But this long, messy story makes it seem the system is equally, if not more, likely to protect lawyers who step over the ethical edge knowing few will be the wiser.
Read Senate report on Conn Law Firm at Kentucky.com/opinion.