PRESTONSBURG – Attorney Eric C. Conn appeared in Floyd Circuit Court Friday morning for what resulted in brief oral arguments from both Conn’s attorneys and, on the other side, Prestonsburg attorney Ned Pillersdorf. The brief hearing was to see if the order to freeze Conn’s assets would stay in place.
Circuit Judge Johnny Ray Harris did not request Conn take the stand during the proceedings, and offered apologies in saying that because of unexpected obligations in neighboring Pike County he would only be able to hear oral statements from both sides lasting approximately fifteen minutes.
Harris judged that Conn’s assets would remain frozen after hearing both sides, Friday.
Prior to the beginning of the hearing, those in attendance offered speculation on whether not Conn would appear. He had yet to appear for a court proceeding since the civil was brought against him this past May.
The Stanville-based lawyer saw the civil suit brought against him by Pillersdorf in May after the Social Security Administration (SSA) suspended benefits for 1,500 of his clients. Pillersdorf is hoping to make a case for 900 of the 1,500 clients, all of whom have since had their benefits temporarily restored following urging from U.S. Representative Hal Rogers.
Harris asked both sides to spend their time during statements giving arguments as to whether or not there still existed a need for inclusion of “irreparable harm” in the case, considering the benefits have been restored for now.
Pillersdorf was first to offer his argument, beginning by reminding the court of testimony from Conn’s former employees that records were destroyed at his office when the SSA first put Conn on its radar.
“There is the amazing destruction of evidence, a four-day bonfire,” Pillersdorf said. “There have been two suicides, one attempted suicide, and several reported nervous breakdowns of clients whose benefits were suspended. It is beyond catastrophic. The very medical records my clients have been scrambling to locate in 10 days are most likely destroyed.”
The clients who saw benefits suspended as part of the SSA’s look into Conn’s practice have been ordered to produce their medical records within 10 days, a task Pillersdorf argued is essentially impossible now, as well as the financial difficulties imposed of his clients in obtaining lawyers for possible future court proceedings.
“The 1,500, how are they going to get lawyers,” Pillersdorf said. “Since the SSA is forging ahead and want the 1,500 hearings?”
Prior to Friday’s hearing, Pillersdorf met with SSA officials and attorneys without luck, he said afterwards in a post on his Facebook page.
“In the federal case, Judge Thapar had ordered the lawyers to discuss resolution. The meeting with the lawyers with the SSA went poorly,” Pillderdorf posted. “They appear totally determined to proceed with hearings as to all 1,500 – that is the 900 disability recipients who had their benefits suspended, as well as the 600 SSI recipients who received letters last month. “
Pillersdorf went on to say the SSA “refused to give any timetable as to when any hearings would commence.”
“I also raised the issues of suicides their suspensions had cased, how their ambush had harmed so many innocent and vulnerable victims,” continued Pillersdorf. “They declined to respond. Bottom line is we are going to have to legally battle this out.”
A new civil suit will be filed in the near future in the recent suicide of Inez resident and former Conn client Melissa Jude. Jude joins Floyd County’s Larry Burchett, who committed suicide just days before benefits were temporarily restored earlier this month. Pillersdorf has filed wrongful death suits on behalf of both Jude and Burchett.
When Conn’s attorneys Kent Wicker and Joseph Lambert were given the opportunity to present their oral arguments, Wicker stood with Conn’s seated behind he and Lambert, and calmly advised for lifting the freeze by calling back to historical fact of law in the case.
“I appreciate the speech, but let’s about the law,” Wicker said. “Once benefits were restored that took away irreparable harm. What we have here is you have no one who can bring forth an injury to the court. Freezing a defendant’s assets before due process is not something I’ve ever seen a court do. And if in 220 years a court has never done this, this court should not be the first.”
Lambert added that the defense’s argument was “nothing but speculation” and a “parade of horribles.”
“Allow me to speculate now,” Lambert continued. “Only a handful of the 900 will be found not to be disabled and will lost their benefits.”
After hearing from both sides, Harris stated he had “never seen a case like this.” Before calling the hearing to an end he asked that each side prepare a three-page brief on irreparable harm and have it ready and provided to him the day before the next hearing in the case, which he scheduled for Wednesday, June 24, at 11 a.m.