Posts Tagged With: Daugherty

Red Flag Judges At Social Security Says Rep. Jackie Speier

 

When California Rep. Jackie Speier is not chasing military officers looking for sexual sadists, she is following Social Security Judges trying to “red flag” them. She proposes a system to review cases from “red flag” judges. Judges who have high approval rates send up ‘red flags’. Speier has had enough. The Democrat from San Mateo who has been on the front lines fighting to expose and correct the epidemic of sexual assault and harassment in the military has turned her attention to her own colleagues. Representative Speier introduced a bill that would require all House members and staff to take sexual harassment training every two years.

 Rep. Jackie Speier, California Democrat, one of the heads the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on health care, say Social Security employees should be allowed to look at the social media profiles (such as, Facebook, Twitter, etc) of those applying for disability, reasoning that photos and other information people post can expose the applicants as able-bodied.

She also said that two Social Security judges may have approved thousands of bogus disability claims, but the agency has never gone back to review those judges’ cases to stop the ones that were fraudulent.

Speier said the agency should come up with a system to review cases from “red-flag” judges who show inclinations toward rubber-stamping applications.

In an exhaustive 11-page memo to Social Security acting Commissioner Carolyn W. Colvin, she  detailed nearly a dozen recommendations for improving a disability system that has received an explosion of applications in recent years and is in danger of going bankrupt by 2016.

It was indefensible that the Social Security Administration (SSA) hasn’t reviewed applications approved by two administrative law judges, David B. Daugherty in West Virginia and Charles Bridges in Pennsylvania, who have been accused of making bogus disability determinations.

Kia Anderson, a spokeswoman for Social Security, said the SSA takes fraud seriously and will review the lawmakers’ recommendations.

“We recognize that one case of fraud is too many and work aggressively to detect and prevent abuses. We continue to enhance our program integrity efforts by adding tools like data analytics which enables us to identify patterns of suspicious behavior in disability applications,” she said.

She made a pitch for Congress to grant more funding so the SSA can put more effort into preventing fraud.

The oversight committee has been looking into the disability issue for some time and took testimony from Judge Jasper J. Bede, an SSA Regional Chief Administrative Law Judge who told investigators that some judges appeared to be rubber-stamping applications. (Read more at http://www.amazon.com/socialNsecurity-Confessions-Social-Security-Judge/dp/1449569757)

Judge Bede singled out Judge Bridges, who decided more than 2,000 cases a year and who often went beyond looking at an applicant’s disability and considered income or other factors.

Judge Daugherty, meanwhile, approved 99.7 percent of his cases from 2005 through 2011, awarding disability benefits to 8,413 people — the equivalent of $2.5 billion in total lifetime benefits.

Major cases of disability fraud have been reported in West Virginia, Puerto Rico and, most recently, New York City, where investigators said police officers falsely claimed disability from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Some of those New York cases were exposed in part because investigators found online photos of the officers engaged in flying helicopters, going on deep-sea sport-fishing trips and riding personal watercraft.

That is one reason lawmakers want Social Security employees to scour social media before approving applications, and again when they go back for periodic checks, known as continuing disability reviews (CDR).

“To increase efficiency and reduce the number of erroneous disability determinations, SSA personnel should be allowed to review each applicant’s social media accounts prior to the decision to award benefits. Additionally, we suggest that SSA require that all CDRs incorporate a review of the beneficiary’s social media accounts,”  Ms. Speier said.

 

Social Security has repeatedly refused to let its investigators use social media, arguing that its judges aren’t trained to evaluate the information.

“Adjudicators should do what they are trained to do: Review voluminous files to determine eligibility for disability benefits. Office of Inspector General fraud investigators should do what they are trained to do: vigorously follow up on any evidence of fraud,” said Ms. Anderson.

From 2010 through 2012, Americans filed 8.6 million disability claims, but judges and Social Security’s disability review office reported only 411 suspicions of fraud. That works out to fewer than one out of every 20,000 applications.

Part of the problem is that Social Security is lax in reviewing cases of those deemed temporarily disabled to see whether they have recovered.

But a review of cases from 1980 through 1983 found 40 percent of those receiving disability benefits were not disabled, suggesting a tremendous level of bad payments.

Disability judges who have high approval rates send up red flags because by the time a case gets to an administrative law judge, it has already been denied by at least one previous review at the State DDS, and often by a second DDS review, the two lawmakers said. That would suggest the approval rate for those cases should be low.

Social Security is made up of two trust funds. The main one is the Old Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund, with the Disability Insurance Trust Fund accounting for a smaller but growing part of the agency’s work.

 

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Government Vows To Clean Up Disability Program Waste

Government tries to clean up disability program

(By Hoppy Kercheval in Hoppy’s Commentary | December 30, 2013)

(NOTE: the views expressed here are those of Hoppy Kercheval and his alone. If you want some accurate information about the Social Security Disability Determination Process, you would be wise to read socialNsecurity, the Confessions of a Social Security Judge. Available on Amazon.com. See  http://www.amazon.com/socialNsecurity-Confessions-Social-Security-Judge/dp/1449569757 )

The federal government may finally be getting a handle on the runaway Social Security Disability Insurance Program. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Social Security Administration is “tightening its grip on 1,500 administrative law judges to ensure that disability benefits are awarded consistently and to reign in fraud in the program.”

SSDI payments have risen dramatically in recent years.  A combination of the economic downtown driving more unemployed workers to the program and liberal awarding of benefits by some judges has raised SSDI rolls 20 percent in the last six years to 12 million people, with an annual budget of $135 billion.

At this rate, the disability program will have spent all its reserves by 2016, forcing either an increase in payroll taxes or a cut in benefits.

The Journal reports that the administrative law judges (ALJ) will no longer have “complete individual independence.”  Instead, they will be subject to supervision and management from the Social Security Administration (SSA).

The Association of Administrative Law Judges (AALJ) , the union representing the judges says it fears that will open the process to political interference, but that’s a straw man.  Many of these disability judges need someone looking over their shoulder.

The poster boy for waste, fraud and abuse in SSDI is ALJ  D.B. Daugherty of Huntington.  As a Social Security administrative law judge, Daugherty awarded benefits in virtually every case… thousands of them.  He worked closely with attorney Attorney Eric Conn, who advertised heavily in West Virginia and Kentucky, looking for potential clients.

According to the Journal, Daugherty once told a colleague, “Some of these judges act like it’s their own damn money we’re giving away.”  Daugherty resigned after the Journal first reported the story in 2011.

During the Great Depression, when Congress was first considering a federal insurance program for the disabled (the law didn’t pass until almost 20 years later), a Social Security Advisory Council actuary warned of costs beyond “anything that can be forecast.”

The fear was that well-intentioned assistance for any person with impairments of mind or body that would keep him from being gainfully employed for their rest of his life would devolve into a version of unemployment.

That warning has proven prophetic as this country’s Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program has spun out of control and is now on course to run out of money by 2016.

Sunday night, CBS 60 Minutes aired a segment entitled “Disability USA,” which probed the abuse of SSDI.  Steve Kroft reported that SSDI rolls have risen 20 percent just in the last six years to 12 million people, with a budget of $135 billion.

West Virginia, despite a small population, is a big contributor to the SSDI rolls.  The AP reports that “West Virginia leads the nation in the percentage of adults receiving government assistance for disabilities.”

A big reason for the surge in SSDI is that people who have had their claims denied are hiring law firms that specialize in winning appeals.

According to 60 Minutes, “Last year, the Social Security Administration paid a billion dollars to claimants’ lawyers out of its cash-strapped disability trust fund.  The biggest chunk–$70 million—went to Binder & Binder, the largest disability firm in the country.

Jenna Fliszar, a lawyer who used to work for Binder & Binder and represent clients from West Virginia and other states, told CBS, “I call it a legal factory because that’s all it is.  They have figured out the system and they’ve made it into a huge national firm that makes millions of dollars a year on Social Security Disability.”

In 2011, the Wall Street Journal’s Damian Paletta reported on one Huntington-based disability judge who nearly always sided with the claimant.  Judge David B. “D.B.” Daugherty awarded benefits in all but four of 1,284 cases during one fiscal year.  The national average is 60 percent approval.

A report by the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs estimates that Daugherty awarded more than $2.5 billion in benefits in the last 7 years of his career.

The Journal reported that Daugherty worked closely with lawyer Eric Conn, who advertises heavily in southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, looking for potential clients. Daugherty resigned after the Journal’s reports. Conn, who continues a thriving practice in SSDI cases, was evasive in a brief interview with 60 Minutes about his relationship with the former judge.

The abuse of the SSDI system has caught the attention of the Senate Committee on Government Affairs. It held a hearing Monday and issued a report finding “a raft of improper practices by the Conn law firm to obtain disability benefits, inappropriate collusion between Mr. Conn and a Social Security Administrative Law Judge (Daugherty), and inept agency oversight which enabled the misconduct to continue for years.”

The Committee report says Daugherty’s bank records show $96,000 in cash deposits from 2003 to 2011, for which Daugherty refused to explain the origin or source of the funds.

As one of the SSDI administrative judges said, “If the American public knew what was going on in our system, half would be outraged and the other half would apply for benefits.”

Frankly, it’s predictable that Americans hit by hard economic times are tempted to latch on to any government help they can, especially when there is an alliance of lawyers, doctors and judges willing to shepherd them through the system.

In doing so, however, they are squandering taxpayer dollars and bankrupting a legitimate program.

Meanwhile, earlier this year federal authorities arrested 75 people in Puerto Rico on charges of defrauding SSDI out of millions of dollars.  A former Social Security employee teamed with complicit doctors to falsely diagnose individuals as mentally incapable of working.

But the problem is not just the outliers like Daugherty and the Puerto Rican scam.

As the Journal reports, there is widespread disparity in how judge’s rule.  “Dozens of judges awarded benefits in 90 percent of their cases, while others were much less likely to find someone unable to find work, denying benefits in more than 80 percent of their cases, data showed.”

SSDI is an essential part of the country’s safety net.  Those who are impaired, either in mind or body, and cannot work are entitled by law to support.  However, it’s important to remember that SSDI is not another option for the unemployed, nor should it be an easy target for scammers.

Politicians like to say they can save taxpayer dollars by tightening up on waste, fraud and abuse–it’s easier than proposing real budget cuts–but in the case of SSDI, they’re right about the profligate misspending.

During the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security hearing on Thursday January 16th, Rep. Tim Griffin (R- Ark.) raised questions about the disability program’s efficiency and accuracy in the wake of recent high-profile fraud cases.

Social Security Administration Inspector General Patrick O’Carroll and SSA Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin testified before the subcommittee about the SSA’s ability to root out fraud and handle employees who are implicated in a scheme.

Colvin testified that 99 percent of disability payments are made correctly. Griffin, however, noted recent disability schemes in New York, Puerto Rico and West Virginia and challenged the accuracy of Colvin’s claim.

That talking point, Griffin said, “needs to be erased” because the nature of fraud makes it impossible to know how rampant abuse of Social Security disability has become.

Griffin also questioned the SSA’s ability to reprimand and fire SSA employees who are investigated or implicated in disability schemes.

“…We all know that in order to fire someone, they do not have to be innocent until proven guilty in a court of law applying (the) beyond a reasonable doubt standard,” Griffin said. “That’s not the standard to fire people.”

O’Carroll said the preference is to place an employee on leave without pay while investigating criminal activities; however, sometimes employees are left in place and monitored in an effort to identify co-conspirators.

Ms. Colvin is running the agency until the White House nominates a commissioner, and the White House has not signaled when it might move on the vacancy.

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Social Security Judge Found Unconscious But Alive

Under fire retired Social Security Judge recently found unconscious by police 

BARBOURSVILLE, W.Va. — A Barboursville police report released Friday said police recently found a former federal administrative law judge, who has been under investigation, in his car barely breathing after what may have been a suicide attempt.

Retired Social Security Administrative Law Judge David Daugherty has been under fire since a 2011 report.

Various media reports Saturday detailed the police report concerning David Daugherty.  That report said he was found unconscious in his car Monday afternoon in a Barboursville church parking lot.

The report said the police found a garden hose running from the car’s exhaust into the passenger side of the vehicle.

Judge Daugherty was taken to a hospital and later released.

Judge Daugherty retired in 2011 shortly after a story in the Wall Street Journal focused on the high rate in which he approved Social Security disability cases. Judge Daugherty was placed on leave after the story broke. Allegations of fraud have been under investigation by a U.S. Senate committee. The committee recently held a congressional hearing.

The fraud is so rampant, and disability cases have so proliferated in recent years, that the Social Security’s Disability Trust Fund may run out of money in only 18 months, says Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., whose office undertook the investigation.

Coburn’s report on widespread fraud focuses in large part on a veritable “disability claim factory” allegedly  run by Attorney Eric C. Conn out of his small office in Stanville, Kentucky, a region of the country where 10 to 15 percent of the population  receives disability payments.

The report documents how Attorney Conn allegedly worked together with Social Security Administrative Law Judge David Daugherty (ALJ)  and a team of favored doctors with checkered pasts, including suspended licenses in other states, who rubber stamped approval of disability claims. In most cases, the claims had been prepared in advance with nearly identical language by staffers in Conn’s law office.

The report found that over the past six years, Attorney Conn allegedly paid five doctors almost $2 million to provide favorable disability opinions for his claimants.

In 2010, the last year for which records are available, Judge Daugherty approved 1375 disability cases prepared by Attorney Conn’s office and denied only 4 of them – an approval  rate that other administrative law judges have described as nearly  impossible.

Judge Daugherty, 75 years old, processed more cases than all but three judges in the U.S. He had a wry view of his less-generous peers. “Some of these judges act like it’s their own damn money we’re giving away,” Mr. Daugherty told a fellow Huntington judge, Algernon Tinsley, who worked in the same office until last year, Mr. Tinsley recalled.

Judge Daugherty was a standout in a judicial system that has lost its way, say numerous current and former judges. Judges say their jobs can be arduous, protecting the sometimes divergent interests of the applicant and the taxpayer.

Some former judges and staff said one reason Judge Daugherty was allowed to continue processing so many cases was because he single-handedly helped the office hit its monthly goals. Staff members can win bonuses and promotions if these goals are surpassed as part of performance reviews.

Critics blame the Social Security Administration, which oversees the disability program, charging that it is more interested in clearing a giant backlog than ensuring deserving candidates get benefits. Under pressure to meet monthly goals, some judges decide cases without a hearing. Some rely on medical testimony provided by the claimant’s attorney.

The report found, “Judge Daugherty telephoned the Conn law firm each month and identified a list of Mr. Conn’s disability claimants to whom the judge planned to award benefits. Judge Daugherty also indicated, for each listed claimant, whether he needed a “physical” or “mental” opinion from a medical professional indicating the claimant was disabled.”

The report says that when Senate staffers and the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General began an investigation based on tips from whistle blowers, Attorney Conn and Judge Daugherty began communicating with disposable, pre-paid cell phones. It also alleges they contracted with a local shredding company to destroy 13 tons of documents. Attorney Conn also allegedly destroyed all the computer hard drives in his office.

In 2011, the SSA placed Daugherty on administrative leave. He retired shortly after that.

Attorney Conn’s legal fate is now in the hands of the Justice Department.

The alleged  fraud highlights an endemic problem in Social Security disability benefit awards. The Coburn report says a random examination of 300 case files by Congressional staff found more than a quarter of  the case files “failed to properly address insufficient, contradictory, or incomplete evidence,” suggesting a high rate of fraud or abuse.

Daugherty served as a Cabell County circuit judge for 7 years beginning in 1977.

By Jeff Jenkins in News | October 19, 2013

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Disability Fraud Runs Deep and Wide

Social Security Poster: old man

Social Security Poster: old man (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Widespread fraud reported in Social Security Administration‘s Disability Program

A two-year investigation by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations has found widespread fraud in the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Disability Program. It appears that disability payments have skyrocketed because the SSA’s  attempt  to reduce the  back-log of disability cases has forced administrative law judges to hold hearings without reviewing the medical evidence in the case files, decide cases without holding hearings, and approve cases of claimants that are not disabled.

The fraud is so rampant, and disability cases have so proliferated in recent years, that the Social Security‘s Disability Trust Fund may run out of money in only 18 months, says Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., whose office undertook the investigation.

Coburn’s report on widespread fraud, released Monday, focuses in large part on a veritable “disability claim factory” allegedly  run by Attorney Eric C. Conn out of his small office in Stanville, Kentucky, a region of the country where 10 to 15 percent of the population  receives disability payments.

(Judge David Daugherty)

The report documents how Attorney Conn allegedly worked together with Social Security Administrative Law Judge David Daugherty (ALJ)  and a team of favored doctors with checkered pasts, including suspended licenses in other states, who rubber stamped approval of disability claims. In most cases, the claims had been prepared in advance with nearly identical language by staffers in Conn’s law office.

The report found that over the past six years, Attorney Conn allegedly paid five doctors almost $2 million to provide favorable disability opinions for his claimants.

In 2010, the last year for which records are available, Judge Daugherty approved 1375 disability cases prepared by Attorney Conn’s office and denied only 4 of them – an approval  rate that other administrative law judges have described as nearly  impossible.

The average disability-benefit approval rate among all administrative judges is about 60% of cases. But there are Daugherty equivalents dotted across the country. In the first half of fiscal 2011, 27 judges awarded benefits 95% of the time, not counting those who heard just a handful of cases. More than 100 awarded benefits to 90% or more of applicants, according to agency statistics.

Judge Daugherty, 75 years old, processed more cases than all but three judges in the U.S. He had a wry view of his less-generous peers. “Some of these judges act like it’s their own damn money we’re giving away,” Mr. Daugherty told a fellow Huntington judge, Algernon Tinsley, who worked in the same office until last year, Mr. Tinsley recalled.

Judge Daugherty was a standout in a judicial system that has lost its way, say numerous current and former judges. Judges say their jobs can be arduous, protecting the sometimes divergent interests of the applicant and the taxpayer.

Some former judges and staff said one reason Judge Daugherty was allowed to continue processing so many cases was because he single-handedly helped the office hit its monthly goals. Staff members can win bonuses and promotions if these goals are surpassed as part of performance reviews.

Critics blame the Social Security Administration, which oversees the disability program, charging that it is more interested in clearing a giant backlog than ensuring deserving candidates get benefits. Under pressure to meet monthly goals, some judges decide cases without a hearing. Some rely on medical testimony provided by the claimant’s attorney.

The report found, “Judge Daugherty telephoned the Conn law firm each month and identified a list of Mr. Conn’s disability claimants to whom the judge planned to award benefits. Judge Daugherty also indicated, for each listed claimant, whether he needed a “physical” or “mental” opinion from a medical professional indicating the claimant was disabled.”

Coburn’s report found that, “over a four-year period from 2006 to 2010, the Social Security Administration paid Mr. Conn over $4.5 million in attorney fees.” And that, “Mr. Conn was the third highest paid disability law firm in the country due to its receipt of over $3.9 million in attorney fees from the Social Security Administration.”

The report says that when Senate staffers and the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General began an investigation based on tips from whistle blowers, Attorney Conn and Judge Daugherty began communicating with disposable, pre-paid cell phones. It also alleges they contracted with a local shredding company to destroy 13 tons of documents. Attorney Conn also allegedly destroyed all the computer hard drives in his office.

In 2011, the SSA placed Daugherty on administrative leave. He retired shortly after that.

Attorney Conn’s legal fate is now in the hands of the Justice Department.

The alleged  fraud highlights an endemic problem in Social Security disability benefit awards. The Coburn report says a random examination of 300 case files by Congressional staff found more than a quarter of  the case files “failed to properly address insufficient, contradictory, or incomplete evidence,” suggesting a high rate of fraud or abuse.

Disability payments have skyrocketed across the U.S. in recent years. At the end of August 2013, more than 14 million Americans were receiving disability benefits The Social Security Administration has blamed aging baby boomers and the lingering effects of the recession as two causes, but another reason disability payments have skyrocketed appears to be  the SSA’s  attempt  to reduce the  back-log of disability cases has forced judges to hold hearings without reviewing the medical evidence in the case file, decide cases without holding hearings, and approve cases of claimants that are not disabled.

That, in turn , has led to  less scrutiny of individual case files, which can be hundreds of pages long.

Social Security Administration officials acknowledge they are trying to clear a backlog of 730,000 cases. But they say they remain focused on ensuring taxpayer money isn’t wasted. “We have an obligation to the people in need to provide them their benefits if they qualify, but we also have an obligation to the taxpayer not to give benefits to people who don’t qualify,” said the former SSA Commissioner Michael Astrue.

Doug McKelway

By Doug McKelway

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) An eastern Kentucky attorney at the center of a national disability fraud investigation is breaking his silence. Floyd County attorney Eric Conn says “the truth will be forthcoming” and for others not to be so quick to judge.

A congressional report accuses Conn of scheming with retired administrative law Judge David B. Daugherty to approve more than 1,800 disability cases from 2006 to 2010.

“I have practiced Social Security disability law for twenty years. I have advertised extensively and represented every claimant to the best of my ability,” wrote Conn in a statement sent to WKYT. “When changes in the law occurred, I studied those changes in an effort to better represent the people who put their faith in me. I have served my clients with honor and dignity.”

Before a senate hearing on Monday, October 7, 2013 Conn refused to answer questions, a former worker claimed he called doctors responsible for signing off on the reports “whore doctors” because they didn’t question the information.

Allegations in a more than 160-page report from a U.S. Senate committee include that Conn “used his law practice to exploit key vulnerabilities in a critical federal safety net program and became wealthy in the process, “inappropriate collusion,” and the “collaborated on a scheme that enabled the judge to approve, in assembly-line fashion, hundreds of clients for disability benefits using manufactured medical evidence.”

Attorney Conn – said to be the third highest paid disability lawyer in the country – stood before a senate hearing Monday, October 7, where four witnesses testified against him. He’s accused of perpetrating massive fraud against the Social Security Administration (SSA).

Daugherty is said to have awarded an unusually high number of benefits totaling $ 2.5-billion while Conn would seek out doctors with suspicious credentials.

“He called them whore doctors because you could get them to do what you want and they were cheaper,” said Melina Hicks who worked for Conn.

The report claims these doctors would sign a claimant’s form — paving the way for Judge David Daugherty to award benefits.
One in three of the cases reviewed revealed identical paperwork.

During this time, Conn received $4.5 million in lawyers fees paid by SSA.

Jennifer Griffith and her co-worker Sarah Carver also testified Monday. They processed disability claims in Huntington, West Virginia.

In 2011, they filed a federal lawsuit against Conn and Daugherty under the false claims act which allows whistle blowers to get a portion of money recovered in fraud cases.

“With Judge Dougherty and Eric Conn, what I seen was 100 percent// if you look at that statistic alone, what’s the likelihood that every claimant who walks into your office is disabled,” said Carver who is a senior case technician for the SSA.

In a “60 Minutes” broadcast on Sunday, October 6, CBS News tracked down Conn.
When reporter Steve Kroft asked Conn to talk about his relationship with the former judge and his incredible success in disability court, Conn didn’t elaborate.

“Boy, that’s tempting. Oh, I would love to comment on some of that. But not – I’m really sorry, I don’t think I should right now,” Conn told CBS News.

At Monday’s hearing, he remained even more restrained.
I respectfully assert my constitutional right not to testify here today, sir,” Attorney Conn told committee members.

Judge Daugherty left the hearing before he was called to testify.
More than 11-million Americans receive disability insurance. That’s up 20 percent in the last six years.

Sen. Tom Coburn who spear-headed the investigation says that this case is just one example of widespread abuse.

“Some in congress refuse to acknowledge that the disability programs are broken and in dire need of significant oversight. People who are truly disabled will pay the price of our dithering,” said Sen. Coburn.

Nov. 02, 2013 

HUNTINGTON — An investigation into the Huntington Office of Disability and Adjudication Review was launched after the publication of a Wall Street Journal article in 2011 outlining the relationship between disability lawyer Eric C. Conn and Administrative Law Judge(ALJ) David Daugherty.

Conn ordered a massive destruction of files at his office, according to a report from the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and testimony at a Congressional hearing last month.
ALJ Daugherty, then 75 years old, called Conn’s firm multiple times in the days after the article appeared, but Conn refused to talk to the judge on his law firm’s phone lines, the Congressional report found.
The report states the judge left a message on Conn’s home phone that said:
“OK. There are those of us who know the D.A. There are those of us who know the circuit judge. There are those of us who have an inside track and hear some things. We need to talk. If you don’t want to, it’s your loss. You need to contact me … You need to do it. There are things you need to know. Good-bye.”
After that, the report alleges, ALJ Daugherty and Conn communicated through the use of disposable prepaid cell phones so the calls couldn’t be tracked.
ALJ Daugherty was placed on administrative leave pending investigation and retired in 2011. Judge Charlie Andrus also stepped down as chief justice of the Huntington office, though he continued to serve as a judge until being placed on leave pending an investigation and retiring this year.
ALJ Debra Bice, chief administrative law judge (Chief ALJ) for the entire Office of Disability and Adjudication Review under the Social Security Administration (SSA/ODAR), told a colleague that when she questioned Andrus on ALJ Daugherty, “he couldn’t give an honest assessment of what was going on.”
While Andrus testified before a Senate committee investigating Social Security fraud earlier this month, Conn exercised his 5th Amendment right not to testify on evidence that might incriminate himself.
Despite receiving a federal subpoena, ALJ Daugherty did not show up for the hearing.
Huntington office workers Sarah Carver and Jennifer Griffith gave detailed testimony on the dysfunction of their workplace, and two of Eric Conn’s former employees also testified.
“Those women, the ones who spoke out, they are extremely brave and deserve a lot of credit,” said ALJ Daniel Kemper, a former judge and colleague of ALJ Daugherty in the Huntington office.
Shortly after the Congressional hearings, Barboursville Police, responding to a call of what the department called a possible suicide attempt, found ALJ Daugherty passed out in a car with a garden hose duct-taped to the exhaust pipe and running into the vehicle. An empty bottle of liquor and an empty pill bottle were also found, according to police.
ALJ Daugherty was revived and spent an unknown number of days at an area hospital before being released.
Just how Huntington Administrative Law Judge David “D.B.” Daugherty managed to be one of the most productive Social Security Administration judges in the country in the later years of his career was something of a mystery to his co-workers and fellow judges. ALJ Daugherty, who became an administrative law judge in 1990, was hardly ever in his office and rarely conducted hearings, according to a report issued by the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs last month after it looked into possible abuses in the Huntington Social Security office.
The report and recent Congressional testimony allege ALJ Daugherty abused an initiative by the Social Security Administration urging judges to decide between 500 to 700 cases per year to clear some of the system’s backlog.
Daugherty well exceeded those marks, moving thousands of disability claims per year, almost all of which he approved by simply looking at a file and making a decision while rarely conducting hearings. When those hearings were conducted, it was at a break-neck pace.
When a fellow judge expressed concern over moving cases quickly, Judge Daugherty told him “You’re just going to have to learn what corners to cut,” according to the report.
The document indicates Judge Daugherty engaged in this behavior for years even before the 2007 initiative, and perhaps made himself indispensable because he exceeded numeric goals and helped put the Huntington Office of Disability and Adjudication Review among the most productive offices in the country.
But the volume of cases didn’t match what colleagues observed of the judge’s work ethic.
The report states one administrative law judge in an email called Daugherty “intellectually lazy,” and that was “probably his most obvious trait.”
Another colleague said Daugherty was “A spoiled little boy who became a judge” who “sought the easiest way out” in his work.
The 266-page congressional investigative report, Congressional testimony and media reports allege Daugherty worked with Kentucky disability attorney Eric C. Conn to abuse the Social Security Administration by awarding unearned disability benefits to so many clients that Conn became the third-highest-earning disability attorney in the United States at one point.
The report also reveals that Judge Daugherty approved benefits in thousands of other cases that had no connection to Conn.
Decisions made by Daugherty from 2005 through 2011 to award disability benefits to claimants cost Social Security more than $2.5 billion, according to the report. His 99.7 approval rating over a two-year monitored period was well above the national average of 60 percent.

In 2010, Judge Daugherty was the third-most productive ALJ judge out of 1,500 judges nationwide, deciding 1,411 cases. Of those, 530, or roughly 37 percent, were claimants represented by Conn. Daugherty awarded benefits in 1,410 of the cases. He denied benefits only once.

The report states it was a running joke in the Huntington Office of Disability and Adjudication Review that if someone was looking for Judge Daugherty, “you should not look in his office.”
Various fellow judges and even some office personnel brought it to the attention of management numerous times that Judge Daugherty would sign in, disappear for the day, then return and sign out as if he had worked eight hours. Sometimes he even gave himself extra hours worked. The judges do not receive extra pay for overtime, but can earn extra leave.
The report states that Daugherty’s behavior when it came to time and attendance was “a constant source of tension” in the Huntington office.
One of Daugherty’s critics in that regard was fellow judge ALJ Daniel Kemper.
“It was extremely frustrating,” the now-retired Kemper said in an interview with The Herald-Dispatch recently. “It’s one of the reasons that I left.”
Kemper and Daugherty were sworn in together in 1990, and assigned to the Huntington office. Kemper said he spent three weeks in training with Daugherty, who had previously been a circuit judge in Cabell County from 1977 through 1984.
Kemper and other justices issued complaints to Huntington Office Chief Justice (HOCALJ) Charlie Andrus multiple times over a period of years regarding the attendance and sign-in issues, but Daugherty was never disciplined.
The report states that Andrus tried on several occasions to kick the complaints up to his superiors, who told the justice it was his responsibility to manage such an issue, with one official saying, “I think Judge Andrus wants someone else to do his job.”
Kemper contended in the congressional report that Daugherty was never disciplined because he moved a high volume of cases.
Former fellow judge William Gitlow wrote to a colleague: “We have Judge Daugherty here who scans the master docket each month, pays 90+% of the time and gets out 80 to 100 cases a month. So we make our numbers each month. Without him we would not. Ever.”
Documents also show that in the case of another Huntington judge who only decided about 20 cases per month, HOCALJ Andrus moved quickly to conduct a thorough investigation of alleged time card abuse.
After a Wall Street Journal article about Daugherty’s relationship with Conn was published in May 2011, Kemper, who retired in 2007, said he was floored by statements Daugherty made to local media.
Daugherty said in those interviews that he moved a lot of cases because he loved his job and applied himself to the task of relieving a backlog of cases.
“He was claiming he got all these cases because he was such a hard worker,” Kemper said. “… His contention that he worked so hard could be refuted just by his time and attendance records.”
Kemper said he had no idea where Daugherty went every day.
” … there was nothing I had seen,” Kemper said. “I didn’t go so far as to make an individual effort to follow him around.”
Enter Eric Conn
The committee report indicates that Daugherty didn’t work hard, but fast.
He decided most of his cases “on the record,” meaning he didn’t conduct a hearing with the claimant, but awarded benefits just by looking at the case file.
In relation to Conn, since at least 2006, Daugherty would call the attorney’s office and read off a list of names and Social Security numbers of Conn’s clients who were on the judge’s docket, referred to as the “DB list,” and tell Conn or his office employees what type of medical evidence he needed to approve the case, investigators found.
Conn would then take disability forms that were already filled out to doctors to sign. Conn allegedly paid local physicians he referred to as “whore doctors” anywhere from $300 to $650 per form, according to Congressional testimony and the committee report.
Daugherty would then write favorable decisions for the client, using variations on the same language in nearly every case, the report states. It also said Daugherty would have Conn change the onset date of a condition so that records of previous denials wouldn’t factor in because the judge would be supposedly looking at a new medical diagnosis.
Many of those cases were moved onto Daugherty’s docket by the judge himself, according to the report and testimony. Andrus was bombarded by complaints from other judges and docket clerks that Daugherty was taking cases that hadn’t been assigned yet, or, in some cases, had already been assigned to other judges.
Andrus would promise to discuss the issue with Daugherty, but the judge was never disciplined, according to the report.
Daugherty was questioned about his relationship with Conn as early as 2002, but deflected any criticism back on Andrus, alleging the chief judge had an inappropriate social relationship with the attorney.
Andrus admitted he had met once with Conn for a meal, and had gone to a movie with the attorney. He also said Conn offered him all-expenses-paid trips to Brazil and Russia, which Andrus said he flatly turned down due to conflict-of-interest issues.
At times, Daugherty made some rather striking allegations about his superior.
In replying to questions from a higher judge about his social relationship with Conn, Andrus said “This is exactly what I was talking about when dealing with Judge Daugherty. At least this time he did not accuse me of doing cocaine in my office.”
Daugherty’s hearings
When judge Daugherty did conduct hearings, they were done in assembly-line fashion, according to his fellow judges.
Daugherty would review Conn’s cases in the Huntington office’s Prestonsburg, Ky., satellite office, which was close to Conn’s legal practice.
“I would be with (Daugherty) in Prestonsburg, and you would see Eric Conn bring in these scores of people at one time,” Kemper said. “(Daugherty) would finish 20 cases in the time it took me to do two or three.”
According to the report, Daugherty would conduct hearings in 15-minute increments, while a single hearing for another judge would take 45 minutes to an hour.
But in most of the cases involving Conn’s clients, Daugherty opted for making “on the record” decisions based on case files and negating the need for hearings.
According to the congressional report, Daugherty conducted 80 hearings for 481 of Conn’s clients he approved for benefits in 2006. Those hearings were conducted over a span of four days.
In 2007, Daugherty saw only four of 509 clients he handled for Conn, with all of the hearings conducted in one day. He didn’t conduct hearings for any of Conn’s 429 clients he approved for benefits in 2008. In 2009 and 2010, he saw a total of five of Conn’s 981 clients who were granted benefits. In 2011, before his suspension, Daugherty saw 18 of 366 clients he approved for Conn, all in one day.
In one instance in 2002, Daugherty canceled a Prestonsburg docket of 30 cases and granted all the claimants benefits using the on-the-record method of case review. However, several court employees needed for the hearings had already been scheduled and paid to be at the Prestonsburg office.
That prompted Andrus to send out a memo to the entire Huntington office asking all cancelations be cleared through him. Regional Chief Justice at the time, Judge Frank Cristaudo, who operated out of the Philadelphia office, wrote a memo requesting that Daugherty be officially reprimanded.
To state that 30 hearings were canceled and 30 on-the-record decisions issued to help the agency meet performance goals suggests possible impropriety and flawed decisions,Cristaudo wrote.
Cristaudo had drafted a reprimand and agency leaders met in December 2002 to decide if Daugherty should be disciplined. According to the report, the letter was never sent due to agency concerns regarding judicial independence.
That phrase — “judicial independence” — was one that Andrus would use time and again while being grilled by a U.S. Senate panel last month on why Daugherty was never disciplined.
According to the report, Andrus did note that Conn would frequently cancel hearings if the case wasn’t on Daugherty’s docket.
He said he confronted Conn directly about this, and Conn remarked “Well, it was good while it lasted.”
According to the report, Daugherty continued to move Conn’s cases to his docket until the Wall Street Journal article was published. That’s when Andrus put a strict lockdown on moving cases and even put a stop to a custom schedule the chief judge had designed that made sure Conn’s cases were heard before any others.
Daugherty did not attend a Congressional hearing on SSA fraud despite a subpoena from the federal government.
Daugherty said he explained his absence in an email through his attorney to the committee, but did not reveal its contents to The Herald-Dispatch.

(Fields, Ben; West-Va Hearld-Dispatch)

During the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security hearing on Thursday January 16th, Rep. Tim Griffin (R- Ark.) raised questions about the disability program’s efficiency and accuracy in the wake of recent high-profile fraud cases.

Social Security Administration Inspector General Patrick O’Carroll and SSA Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin testified before the subcommittee about the SSA’s ability to root out fraud and handle employees who are implicated in a scheme.

Colvin testified that 99 percent of disability payments are made correctly. Griffin, however, noted recent disability schemes in New York, Puerto Rico and West Virginia and challenged the accuracy of Colvin’s claim.

That talking point, Griffin said, “needs to be erased” because the nature of fraud makes it impossible to know how rampant abuse of Social Security disability has become.

Griffin also questioned the SSA’s ability to reprimand and fire SSA employees who are investigated or implicated in disability schemes.

“…We all know that in order to fire someone, they do not have to be innocent until proven guilty in a court of law applying (the) beyond a reasonable doubt standard,” Griffin said. “That’s not the standard to fire people.”

O’Carroll said the preference is to place an employee on leave without pay while investigating criminal activities; however, sometimes employees are left in place and monitored in an effort to identify co-conspirators.

Ms. Colvin is running the agency until the White House nominates a commissioner, and the White House has not signaled when it might move on the vacancy.

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The Judge Who Could Not Say No

HUNTINGTON, W.Va.—Americans seeking Social Security disability benefits will often appeal to one of 1,500 judges who help administer the program, where the odds of winning are slightly better than even. Unless, that is, they come in front of David B. Daugherty.

[Judge_A1] The Herald-DispatchJudge David B. Daugherty

In the fiscal year that ended in September, the administrative law judge, who sits in the impoverished intersection of West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio, decided 1,284 cases and awarded benefits in all but four. For the first six months of fiscal 2011, Mr. Daugherty approved payments in every one of his 729 decisions, according to the Social Security Administration.

The judge has maintained his near-perfect record despite years of complaints from other judges and staff members. They say he awards benefits too generously and takes cases from other judges without their permission.

Staffers in the Huntington office say he hears a disproportionate number of cases filed by one area attorney. Mr. Daugherty has been known to hold hearings for as many as 20 of this lawyer’s clients spaced 15 minutes apart.

Mr. Daugherty is a standout in a judicial system that has lost its way, say numerous current and former judges. Judges say their jobs can be arduous, protecting the sometimes divergent interests of the applicant and the taxpayer. Critics blame the Social Security Administration, which oversees the disability program, charging that it is more interested in clearing a giant backlog than ensuring deserving candidates get benefits. Under pressure to meet monthly goals, some judges decide cases without a hearing. Some rely on medical testimony provided by the claimant’s attorney.

This breakdown is one reason why Social Security Disability Insurance—one of the federal government’s two disability programs—is under severe financial strain. It paid a record $124 billion in benefits in 2010 and is on track to become the first major entitlement program to go bust. Government officials said last week it is expected to run out of money in 2018.

Social Security Disability Awards

The U.S. program’s tribulations come as other countries are trying to limit the costs of their disability programs. In the U.K., officials have proposed requiring routine re-evaluations of people with disabilities to see if their conditions have changed. Australia has proposed that some beneficiaries participate in job-training programs, with the goal of eventually moving them off government support.

American applicants for disability benefits must first seek approval from state officials, who play a lead role in an initial review. Applicants twice denied can then appeal to one of the Social Security Administration’s administrative law judges. The judges are appointed by the federal agency after a competitive exam and screening process.

Hearings, which aren’t open to the public because of medical-privacy rules, typically last an hour and include either the judge or the applicant’s attorney questioning the petitioner. Medical or employment experts can testify, too. Judges consider an applicant’s health, age, education and job prospects before making a legally binding decision.

The average disability-benefit approval rate among all administrative judges is about 60% of cases. But there are Daugherty equivalents dotted across the country. In the first half of fiscal 2011, 27 judges awarded benefits 95% of the time, not counting those who heard just a handful of cases. More than 100 awarded benefits to 90% or more of applicants, according to agency statistics.

Mr. Daugherty, 75 years old, processes more cases than all but three judges in the U.S. He has a wry view of his less-generous peers. “Some of these judges act like it’s their own damn money we’re giving away,” Mr. Daugherty told a fellow Huntington judge, Algernon Tinsley, who worked in the same office until last year, Mr. Tinsley recalled.

[judgeconn] Damian PalettaJudges and local attorneys have complained about the volume of disability cases brought before Judge Daugherty by one lawyer, Eric C. Conn.

Mr. Daugherty, in a written response to questions about the comment, said such a phrase is “more or less a standing joke” among disability-benefit review offices around the country. “No more, no less.”

He said every decision he makes “is fully supported by relevant medical reports and physical and/or mental residual functionary capacity assessments from treating or examining doctors or other medical professionals.”

When asked about Mr. Daugherty, Social Security Administration Commissioner Michael Astrue said in an interview there were several “outliers” among administrative law judges, but that he has no power to intervene because their independence is protected by federal law. Their appointments are lifetime.

“We mostly have a very productive judiciary that makes high-quality decisions, and we’ve got some outliers and we’ve done what we can,” said Mr. Astrue. “Our hands are tied on some of the more extreme cases.”

Social Security Administration officials acknowledge they are trying to clear a backlog of 730,000 cases. But they say they remain focused on ensuring taxpayer money isn’t wasted. “We have an obligation to the people in need to provide them their benefits if they qualify, but we also have an obligation to the taxpayer not to give benefits to people who don’t qualify,” Mr. Astrue said.

Following inquiries from The Wall Street Journal, the Social Security Administration’s inspector general’s office launched an investigation into Mr. Daugherty’s approval rate, according to several people briefed on the matter. Mr. Daugherty said he isn’t aware of any investigation.

Sholten SingerJudge Daugherty, left, an active member of the Huntington, W. Va., community, performed in a recent play.

Social Security, with an $800 billion annual budget, is one of the government’s largest expenses, and is best known for sending monthly payments to retired Americans. But it also pays disability claims for 18 million people each year, with numbers pushed higher because of the recent recession. The federal government runs two separate programs to assist people unable to work because of a debilitating mental or physical disability.

For some, applying for benefits can be an agonizing process that takes more than two years. Benefits are modest—they can run around $1,000 a month—but come with access to government-run health plans Medicare and Medicaid. Analysts estimate the total package costs $300,000 over a beneficiary’s lifetime.

To clear the backlog of cases, the Social Security Administration in 2008 pushed judges to move between 500 and 700 cases a year, something less than half of judges were managing at the time, according to Mr. Astrue, the commissioner. To compensate, judges began making many decisions “on the record,” which means they grant benefits to applicants without meeting them, hearing testimony or asking questions, according to several judges. This has been a favorite approach for Mr. Daugherty, people who have worked with him say.

Mr. Daugherty doesn’t dispute the characterization, and said in these circumstances he weighs “the evidence in the same manner as in cases requiring a hearing.” He said the process “saves the agency a great deal of money and work hours.”

The Social Security Administration “cares only about number of resolutions; quality is no longer a serious concern,” James S. Bukes, a Pittsburgh administrative law judge, wrote in a recent letter to the House subcommittee that oversees Social Security. Mr. Bukes, who approved 46% of disability applicants through the first half of this fiscal year, said the system “wastes millions of dollars by granting claims that are not meritorious.”

Mr. Daugherty became a Social Security judge in 1990 after serving as an elected Cabell County circuit court judge during he 1970s and 1980s. Born and raised in Huntington, he introduces himself as “D.B.,” according to program notes for a recent local production of “Titanic: The Musical,” in which Mr. Daugherty played John Jacob Astor. He’s also a devotee of karaoke.

“He is a very, very well respected man in the community,” said Nancy Cartmill, president of the Cabell County Commission. “He’s been there for years.”

In 2005, he reached 955 decisions, approving benefits in 90% of the cases. From 2006 through 2008, he decided 3,645 cases, approving benefits roughly 95% of the time. Last year, at 99.7%, he had one of the highest award rates in the country, and is on pace to award even more benefits in 2011, according to agency statistics.

As Mr. Daugherty’s numbers rose, judges, staff and local attorneys began complaining about the volume of cases brought before the judge by one Kentucky lawyer.

The lawyer, Eric C. Conn, runs his Social Security practice out of a collection of connected mobile homes in Stanville, Ky., where he erected a giant statue of Abraham Lincoln in the parking lot. His smiling face adorns billboards up and down U.S. Highway 23, and his slogan is “he gets the job done.” Mr. Conn hired Mr. Tinsley, the former Huntington judge, and promotes him on local billboards, too. Mr. Conn often brings an inflatable replica of himself to events. His website address is mrsocialsecurity.com.

Judges and staff in the Huntington office have complained to supervisors that Mr. Daugherty assigns himself Mr. Conn’s cases, including some that were assigned to other judges, two former judges and several staff said. Cases are supposed to be assigned randomly.

According to a court schedule of Mr. Daugherty’s day reviewed by The Wall Street Journal dated Feb. 22, 2006, Mr. Daugherty held 20 hearings spaced 15 minutes apart for Mr. Conn and his clients in a Prestonsburg, Ky., field office. Such days can be a bonanza for lawyers: The average fee for one approval is between $3,000 and $3,500 and can go as high as $6,000.

“The Conn situation was something we really harped on,” said Jennifer Griffith, a master docket clerk in the office until she left in late 2007. “We made sure management knew about it. We gave them every chance to come up with some sort of logical explanation or to get it to stop, and that never happened.”

Mr. Daugherty said he prefers a crammed timetable because he is dyslexic and must fit all of his hearings within four or five days each month because he “simply cannot spend that much time in the courtroom.”

Holding hearings within just a few days “allows me sufficient time to review and prepare for hearings, resulting in full and complete knowledge of the documents in the case prior to hearing,” he added.

Huntington’s chief administrative judge, Charlie Andrus, said he was notified on four occasions of Mr. Daugherty either taking cases assigned to other judges or taking unassigned cases. Mr. Andrus said he issued a written directive on April 29 that “no case was to be reassigned between judges by anyone unless I gave specific permission.”

Mr. Daugherty said he believed judges could take cases “so long as no other [administrative law judge] had seen or reviewed the file.” He said he was “recently reminded that that is no longer true and I promptly returned the cases to the original assignees.”

Stephen Sammons, 37, of Mavisdale, Va., said he injured his neck and back in a truck accident in 2001. He continued working until 2008 when the pain became unbearable, he said. He quit his job and filed for disability benefits.

Several doctors authorized by the Social Security Administration to look at his injuries disputed his claim that his condition was caused by the accident. He retained Mr. Conn, and the case ended up before Huntington judge Toby J. Buel Sr., who rejected the claim in February 2010.

Mr. Conn resubmitted Mr. Sammons’ claim, and Mr. Sammons said he was surprised when Mr. Conn’s office called and said he wouldn’t have to appear before the judge and would only have to see a doctor, selected by Mr. Conn. The new medical records were filed to Mr. Daugherty, who approved the case without Mr. Sammons having to appear.

Mr. Daugherty declined to comment on the case.

A possible connection between Messrs. Daugherty and Conn is a subject of the inspector general’s investigation, according to two people familiar with the probe. Neither Messrs. Conn or Daugherty have been accused of wrongdoing. Mr. Daugherty said he has “absolutely not” received anything of value from Mr. Conn or his associates for processing the lawyer’s cases. He said he has denied a “goodly number” of Mr. Conn’s cases over the years, though he couldn’t provide a specific figure.

Mr. Conn declined multiple interview requests, and didn’t respond specifically to written questions. In a statement, he said he had “not been contacted by any one indicating any investigation being conducted.”

He added: “I have tried very hard in my 18 years of being a lawyer to represent my clients and the profession honestly and ethically seeking results based on the merits of my client’s cases and the results that come from hard work and not from any improper conduct.”

Some former judges and staff said one reason Mr. Daugherty was allowed to continue processing so many cases was because he single-handedly helped the office hit its monthly goals. Staff members can win bonuses and promotions if these goals are surpassed as part of performance reviews.

Dan Kemper, who began working as a judge in the Huntington office with Mr. Daugherty in 1990, said the Social Security agency’s management refused to intervene because of the numbers Mr. Daugherty delivered for the office. He said he complained for years about the number of cases Mr. Daugherty approved without interviewing applicants. Mr. Kemper, who was known in the area as “Denying Dan” for his relatively strict approach, retired in 2007 because he felt the system was unfair.

“The only way you could really get that many cases out was to grant them all, because it was so much easier,” Mr. Kemper said.

In late April, the Huntington office held 50 of Mr. Daugherty’s cases—all approvals for Mr. Conn’s clients—so they could be processed in May, because the office had already hit their monthly goal, people familiar with the matter said. Those applicants will have to wait an additional month to receive benefits. Mr. Conn, who receives a percentage of the back pay owed to his clients, will collect more fees because of the delay. The Huntington office will get a head start on the next month’s target.

Mr. Daugherty said cases are held to space out his approvals, which he attributed to “the ‘numbers game’ that most, if not all, federal agencies are subject to.”

Mr. Andrus said cases weren’t held to meet monthly numbers. He said Mr. Daugherty’s cases can be held because other applicants might have been waiting longer for benefits and those cases might take priority.

In a brief telephone interview in April, Mr. Daugherty blamed high poverty rates especially in Eastern Kentucky for his large case load and high approval rate.

“People would really be surprised at how little education those people have,” he said. “If they have a fourth-grade education, they couldn’t get a job if their lives depended on it.”

Written by Damian Paletta, WSJ, at damian.paletta@wsj.com

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