It has been almost two years since our post Crisis in Kentucky: A Call for Help about 1500 recipients of Social Security Disability benefits – 900 in the SSD program (based on work quarters) and 600 who receive SSI – who were all threatened with the loss of their benefits at upcoming hearings. As a result of a national effort to recruit attorneys to represent these recipients on a pro bono basis in retaining their benefits, 135 attorneys from all over the US volunteered. Many of the attorneys had their own Social Security practice but many did not. Some attended local trainings and some watched the on-line videos of the trainings on the Appalred website. The attorneys each represented from one to 50 or 60 clients. Additionally, Appalred staff handled about 200 of these cases.
Of the original group of 1787 folks who received notices, we were told that 53% were able to keep their benefits after their hearing before an ALJ. Some of these persons did not have a lawyer and the percentage for those who were represented was substantially higher. Many of the persons who lost appealed and their cases are primarily in federal court. Virtually all of the federal district court cases have been stayed pending the outcome of an appeal in the Sixth Circuit, scheduled for a March 7 oral argument. This appeal should decide the evidentiary issues which restricted the evidence that claimants could produce of their disability when Conn represented them. The pro bono appeal is largely handled by Wilmer Hale’s Washington office (with thanks to Arpit Garg and Dan Volchok).
In the meantime, Eric Conn and two ALJ’s pleaded guilty to various fraudulent acts which facilitated the “fraud.” There is no evidence that the clients knew of or participated in the fraud. Nevertheless , as a result of these pleas, SSA has identified 1965 additional cases which are being scheduled for review. The notices to the affected persons are now going out and give the claimants thirty days to produce additional evidence of their disability when Conn represented them. We are told that this time the notices will be parceled out over a period of time, and this time the benefits will continue during the pendency of the case. The hearings are scheduled to begin May 1, 2018. We are told that the hearings, as before will be done through video bridging, with the client at the local SSA office, the lawyer at the nearest SSA office with a video terminal, and the Judge on video probably from St. Louis. Twelve ALJ’s are scheduled to hear these cases. So, we need HELP! So far, a number of the lawyers who handled hearings in the first round have indicated they will take cases from this group, as well; but know that not all these attorneys will be able to do so.
At this point, I ask you to pass the word to your colleagues, to pro bono volunteers and to assist us in any way you can in helping us to recruit more volunteers for these upcoming cases. The pro bono referrals are being handled by Mary Going, Appalred’s pro bono coordinator. Mary’s email address is email@example.com, and she can be reached at 606-886-3876 Ext 1315. As a reminder of the process: After a referral has been made to an attorney, many of the volunteer lawyers scheduled an interview via Skype with the client in the Appalred Prestonsburg office (where Mary and her assistant Dana Branham are located). Local volunteers and several of the out-of-state attorneys have driven to Prestonsburg to conduct the interviews, generally in the Appalred office. Some volunteers scheduled a number of interviews on a given day, with the help of the Appalred staff.
Please feel free to contact John Rosenberg at 606-886-8851; or Mary Going (contact information above); or Appalred Director Robert (Rob) Johns at 606-886-3876 Ext. 1247.
Best wishes and many thanks!
John Rosenberg is Director Emeritus of Appalachian Research and Defense Fund of Ky, Inc. (“Appalred”), in Prestonsburg, KY and a former member of the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service.