Becoming ‘Mr. Social Security’: The bizarre story of fugitive lawyer Eric Conn
Why do mountain folks detest attorneys?
The answer is easy . Two words. One name . Eric Conn.
Who can blame them? For the last four years thousands of mountain families have lived with this continuing dark cloud thanks to our neighbor who branded himself as “Mr. Social Security.”
If you say the word lawyer , folks in the mountains can only think of him. He had hundreds of billboards and continuous ads that featured his picture and his effective self promotion. As a result lawyers are viewed an inch above child predators, an inch below Robo callers.
Everyone in the mountains knows Conn bribed the Judge, cut off his ankle bracelet, and wound up getting arrested at a Pizza Hut in Honduras.
In the wake of his antics has been the gross overreaction of the Social Security Administration. They put thousands of his innocent clients through what the Federal Courts accurately described as unconstitutional star chamber-like hearings.
We have had suicides, spikes in homelessness and four years of continuous despair among our vulnerable neighbors in this poverty stricken region. 800-plus have lost their meager subsistence benefits due to this continuing humanitarian crisis.
What is not talked about, and ignored, is the historic response of more than 200 volunteer lawyers and law students who have swarmed in to represent more than a thousand of those left behind.
Hanging above the Social Security office parking lot in Prestonsburg where thousands of his former clients were put through mass hearings was a gigantic sign featuring the smiling face of the recognizable Conn. A common site in the parking lot were vehicles with Pennsylvania and West Virginia license plates, belonging to the volunteer lawyers who drove down. I always thought the parking lot scene represented an interesting juxtaposition of the polar opposites of the legal profession.
While it makes better headlines to sensationalize the shameful conduct of one now imprisoned lawyer, I much prefer to talk about the unselfish and caring conduct of 200 other lawyers and law students. Not sure anyone is listening, but history should remember the volunteers.
Ned Pillersdorf has been a partner in Pillersdorf, DeRossett & Lane since the firm’s creation in the 1980s. He just celebrated his 37th year of being an attorney and over that time has participated in over 400 jury trials. He received the pro bono award from the Kentucky Bar Association in 2017 ,primarily for his representation of many of the 1500 former clients of Eric C Conn, and coordinating the efforts to find volunteer lawyers for more than a thousand former clients.