Op-Ed

Conn’s victims haunted by ghost of Joe McCarthy

Ned Pillersdorf
Ned Pillersdorf

The beginning of the end of the McCarthy witch-hunt era came on Oct. 20, 1953. Famed CBS journalist Edward R. Murrow, incensed by the proposed expulsion of Milo Radulovich from the Air Force, took to the airwaves to enlighten a nationwide audience as to how our government was treating the Air Force lieutenant.

Murrow accurately described how Radulovich, who was born in Detroit and whose loyalty to his country had never been questioned, was being expelled from the Air Force based on secret evidence in a sealed manila envelope.

At his expulsion hearing, neither he nor his attorney could see nor challenge the evidence against him. The un-challengable innuendo was that his Serbian relatives may have been supporters of “liberal causes.”

That was code for being a communist. Those like Murrow who courageously spoke out against the unfounded hysteria of communist infiltration were likewise branded as either communist or fellow travelers of communist causes.

If you think the tactics of the McCarthy era are over, you are sadly mistaken.

If you think the concept of taking away the rights of our fellow citizens based on secret un-challengable evidence is a relic of a regrettable era that no longer exists, you are even more sadly mistaken.

Fifteen hundred former clients of the now-indicted Floyd County Social Security attorney Eric Conn know exactly how Radulovich felt.

They also received manila envelopes and have been told they can’t see nor challenge important evidence against them. The Social Security Administration calls the 1,500 proceedings re-determination hearings. I call them Milo Radulovich hearings.

Every hearing begins with an administrative law judge calmly explaining that there has been a finding of fraud. Any medical evidence or test results that Conn submitted from the four doctors the SSA is suspicious of will be automatically excluded.

My clients ask if they can challenge the fraud finding that is still sealed in a secret SSA investigative report? Of course not.

Can they even submit evidence or test results that any of the four doctors generated? Of course not.

Is there any evidence that any of the 1,500 participated in or knew of any fraud? The SSA not only concedes there is zero evidence of any misconduct by any former Conn client, the SSA actually told federal Judge Amul Thapar that the former Conn clients were “victims” of the fraud allegedly perpetrated by Conn and others.

Not surprisingly, Thapar denounced such tactics as affording Conn’s clients fewer rights than terrorists. It is not often that you see the words al-Qaida in the first sentence of a Social Security judicial opinion.

Has Thapar’s opinion made the SSA rethink its tactics? The answer is a defiant no.

Instead, the agency has accelerated the cutoff of benefits during this not so joyous holiday season here in the mountains.

Its strategy is to punish the most vulnerable folks in the most economically distressed area of our nation. Hey, they have secret evidence, and Murrow is not around anymore to call them out.

Ned Pillersdorf is an attorney in Prestonsburg.

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