Thursday, January 7, 2021

Former client of disbarred KY lawyer Eric Conn sues to overturn 100s of judgments

By Bill Estep

A former client of disbarred attorney Eric C. Conn has sued to try to overturn hundreds of small-claims lawsuit judgments that Conn pursued against people he represented in Eastern Kentucky.

The judgments have likely caused problems for Conn’s former clients that include damage to their credit scores, losing out on loans and being passed over for jobs, the lawsuit claims.

Some face potential arrest on outstanding warrants they don’t even know exist, according to the complaint.

The man who sued Conn, James K. Gillman, is serving a two-year jail sentence and fears the judgment Conn obtained against him will jeopardize his chance of being released on parole, said his attorney, Ned Pillersdorf.

“This is just the exploitation of vulnerable people,” Pillersdorf said of Conn’s small-claims actions against clients.

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Conn had an office in Floyd County and lived in Pikeville. He once had one of the largest, most lucrative disability practices in the nation, winning Social Security benefits for thousands of people in Appalachia and getting rich in the process, but ultimately admitted his success was built on massive fraud.

He put false evidence of clients’ disabilities in their claims, paid health professionals to sign the claims with little oversight, and bribed a Social Security judge to approve them.

No evidence has been presented that clients were involved in the scheme.

However, the judge, David B, Daugherty, who has since died, pleaded guilty in the case, and Charlie Paul Andrus, once a supervisory Social Security judge, pleaded guilty to helping retaliate against an employee who blew the whistle on the fraud.

A psychologist who received payments from Conn, Alfred Bradley Adkins, was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

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Conn, who fled the country for several months before he was fully sentenced in 2018, is serving a 27-year sentence at a prison in West Virginia.Eric Conn

Fugitive lawyer Eric Conn is taken in to custody by FBI agents on the tarmac at Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, Ky., Tuesday, December 5, 2017. Matt Goins

Pillersdorf, who is handling the case with Lexington attorney Mark Wohlander, said Conn had a doctor evaluate clients at a charge of $400.

Conn filed hundreds of small-claims lawsuits in district court in Pike County to get back the $400, going after disabled people who had little money even though he was making millions, Pillerdorf said.

Gillman, the plaintiff in the lawsuit, only found out in December that Conn had sued him in 2004, according to his lawsuit.

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A judge held Gillman in contempt and levied a 10-day sentence for not answering questions in the case, his lawsuit said.

That was an unusual sanction for that type of alleged violation, and Gillman’s wasn’t the only case where it happened, Pillersdorf said, calling Conn’s tactics a “shameful exploitation” of the court system.

In 2002, Conn had resigned from practicing before the Veterans’ Affairs Disability Benefits Program while under investigation, meaning it was improper for him to later handle Social Security disability cases and misuse the Pike County court system to collect fees from clients, Gillman’s lawsuit argues.

Pillersdorf said Conn collected money from some former clients through the small-claims complaints, but many of them received no notice of the lawsuits or judgments.

There may be contempt citations or active warrants for people who don’t know they exist, and the judgments have the potential to cause problems for people, Pillersdorf said.

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“Credit agencies can find this in two seconds,” he said.

The lawsuit seeks to have the judgments set aside and purged from the system of public records. It also seeks class-action status to potentially include hundreds of former clients of Conn.

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