Posts Tagged With: Judge London Steverson

When Will SSA Get A Real Commissioner, If Ever?

On January 23, 2017, Nancy A. Berryhill became the Acting Commissioner of Social Security, with responsibility for overseeing one of the nation’s largest and most important domestic programs. (When will SSA get a real Commissioner? President appointed only Acting Commissioners.)


 With a $12 billion budget and almost 64,000 employees serving in more than 1,500 offices across the country and around the world, plus 16,000 State employees making disability determinations, the Social Security Administration issues more than $960 billion in payments to nearly 66 million people each year.

Previously, Ms. Berryhill served as the Deputy Commissioner for Operations, Social Security’s largest component, where she successfully implemented many expanded service delivery options for the public. Prior to that position, Ms. Berryhill served two years as the agency’s Regional Commissioner for the Chicago Region and five years as Regional Commissioner for the Denver Region. In Denver, she developed numerous innovative, mission-focused initiatives such as video service delivery, use of webinar technology, and the creation of the first American Indian outreach guide.

Ms. Berryhill began her Social Security career as a GS-2 student employee. In her 40 years at the agency, she has held many frontline positions, including Claims Clerk, Service Representative, Claims Representative, Operations Supervisor, District Manager, and Area Director for the State of Illinois.

Ms. Berryhill has received numerous agency awards, including the Commissioner’s Citation, the agency’s highest recognition. In 2010, she received the Presidential Rank Award of Meritorious Executive, and in 2015, she received the Presidential Rank Award of Distinguished Executive, the highest honor awarded career executives in the Federal Government. Her work and achievements consistently demonstrate professional excellence, exceptional leadership, integrity, and commitment to public service.

A native of Chicago, Illinois, Ms. Berryhill obtained her degree in Computer Science at the Control Data Institute in Chicago. She is a graduate of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.


Meet The New Acting Commissioner Of THe Social Security Administration, Carolyn Colvin.


On February 14, 2013, Carolyn W. Colvin became the Acting Commissioner of Social Security.  Prior to this designation, she served as the Deputy Commissioner, having been confirmed by the United States Senate on December 22, 2010 as President Obama’s nominee.  In addition to her role as the Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Ms. Colvin serves as a Trustee to the Social Security Board of Trustees.

Throughout her career, Ms. Colvin has managed programs that help people with their healthcare and financial needs.  She previously held key executive positions at Social Security Headquarters: Deputy Commissioner for Policy and External Affairs (1994–1996), Deputy Commissioner for Programs and Policy (1996–1998), and Deputy Commissioner for Operations (1998–2001).

Prior to returning to SSA, Ms. Colvin was the Director of Human Services for the District of Columbia (2001-2003); the Director of the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services (2003-2007); the Chief Executive Officer of AMERIGROUP Community Care of the District of Columbia (2007–2008); and, the Special Assistant to the Secretary of Maryland’s Department of Transportation (2009-2011).  In addition, Ms. Colvin served as the Secretary of Maryland’s Department of Human Resources (1989-1994).

Ms. Colvin has received numerous awards and recognition for her managerial expertise and creativity, including Maryland’s Top 100 Women Award from the Daily Record (2005) and the Women of Achievement Award from Suburban Maryland Business and Professional Women (2005).  She has served on a variety of boards and commissions, including the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

Ms. Colvin earned her graduate and undergraduate degrees in business administration from Morgan State University.  Additionally, she completed the Senior Executives in State and Local Government Program at Harvard University, the Maryland Leadership Program, and the Greater Baltimore Leadership Program. Ms. Colvin is from Maryland and currently resides in Anne Arundel County.  She has one son and six grandchildren.

Who Will President Obama Select To Be The New Commissioner Of The Social Security Administration?

Michael Astrue

Michael J. Astrue was sworn in as Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA) on February 12, 2007 for a six-year term that expires on January 19, 2013. President Barack Obama is expected to soon nominate a new Commissioner of the Social Security Administration. Astrue was appointed by President George W. Bush. The White House is silent about who will take the helm at SSA.  The SSA faces voluminous backlogs and claimants may have to wait up to 5 years just to get a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Some extreme cases have taken more than 10 years from the date of filing a claim to get a final decision on whether they are entitled to disability retirement benefits.

Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue’s six-year term expires January 19, 2013. His successor must be confirmed by the Senate, in a process that Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, expects will take a couple of months from the hearings to a vote.

Michael Astrue was still Commissioner of Social Security on 25 January. His term ran out on January 19 but the Social Security Act says he can stay in his job until a successor is confirmed. He hasn’t resigned so he’s still Commissioner. The same is true for Deputy Commissioner Carolyn Colvin. The rumor had been that Astrue did not intend to stay on after his term ended.  So far, he’s proving that rumor wrong. Astrue does seem to be clearing items off his desk. Take a look at what he just sent over to the Office of Management and Budget. I wonder if he’s planning to send over his version of new mental impairment listings before leaving.

The SSA has more than 11,000 employees at its headquarters in Woodlawn, Maryland. It provides benefits to retirees, disabled Americans and the children of deceased workers. The SSA paid more than $778,000,000,000 (that is billion) in benefits to 56 million people. The SSA’s budget rivals that of the Department Of Defense.

Carolyn Colvin is Astrue’s Deputy, but she is not considered to be a serious contender to replace him. She was confirmed by the Senate two years ago. Her term also expires January 19, 2013. She is a former secretary of the state Department of Human Resources and served as special assistant to Maryland’s Secretary of Transportation.

One possibility that comes to mind is that there will never be an announcement of an Obama nominee for Commissioner of Social Security. Astrue will leave the job in the near future and Carolyn Colvin will become the Acting Commissioner for the rest of Obama’s term as President. Colvin as Acting Commissioner, unlike Astrue and unlike a nominated and confirmed Commissioner of Social Security, would be serving at the President’s will. If Colvin displeased the President, she could be removed from the job by Obama nominating and the Senate confirming a Commissioner. I think it is more than possible that the President has had his fill of an independent Social Security Commissioner and wants someone who is truly on his team. I have no inside information. This is just my speculation. Of course, this can’t happen if Astrue keeps hanging around.

(BIOGRAPHY of Catolyn Colvin)

QUOTE: On February 14, 2013, Carolyn W. Colvin became the Acting Commissioner of Social Security.  Prior to this designation, she served as the Deputy Commissioner, having been confirmed by the United States Senate on December 22, 2010 as President Obama’s nominee.  In addition to her role as the Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Ms. Colvin serves as a Trustee to the Social Security Board of Trustees.

Throughout her career, Ms. Colvin has managed programs that help people with their healthcare and financial needs.  She previously held key executive positions at Social Security Headquarters: Deputy Commissioner for Policy and External Affairs (1994–1996), Deputy Commissioner for Programs and Policy (1996–1998), and Deputy Commissioner for Operations (1998–2001).

Prior to returning to SSA, Ms. Colvin was the Director of Human Services for the District of Columbia (2001-2003); the Director of the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services (2003-2007); the Chief Executive Officer of AMERIGROUP Community Care of the District of Columbia (2007–2008); and, the Special Assistant to the Secretary of Maryland’s Department of Transportation (2009-2011).  In addition, Ms. Colvin served as the Secretary of Maryland’s Department of Human Resources (1989-1994).

Ms. Colvin has received numerous awards and recognition for her managerial expertise and creativity, including Maryland’s Top 100 Women Award from the Daily Record (2005) and the Women of Achievement Award from Suburban Maryland Business and Professional Women (2005).  She has served on a variety of boards and commissions, including the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

Ms. Colvin earned her graduate and undergraduate degrees in business administration from Morgan State University.  Additionally, she completed the Senior Executives in State and Local Government Program at Harvard University, the Maryland Leadership Program, and the Greater Baltimore Leadership Program. Ms. Colvin is from Maryland and currently resides in Anne Arundel County.  She has one son and six grandchildren. UNQUOTE.

Nancy Altman, who helps lead two Social Security advocacy groups, has emerged as a potential contender. She has been endorsed by the AFL-CIO and the Association of Administrative Law Judges (AALJ), a network of 1,400 ALJs who decide disability insurance claims. The endorsement of the AALJ is the kiss of death; so, she cannot really be considered a serious contender for the job.

Nevertheless, Judge Randall Frye, president of the AALJ, has  said the AALJ is backing Ms. Altman for Commissioner because of her expertise.

For her part, Ms. Altman has said “My goal would be to restore confidence in the agency and to let the workforce know how appreciative I am and the American people are for the work that is being done.”

One of the major challenges the next commissioner will confront is building administrative support to decrease the long backlogs in the disability insurance program. This is something that Commissioner Astrue was not able to accomplish despite all of the ALJs he was allowed to place on the federal pay roll and the increase in budget that he was granted. The new Commissioner will also be challenged to improve the quality of service that SSA employees are reputed to provide to the public.  Case workers and administrative staff members at SSA are notorious for their abrupt manners and surly attitudes resulting in a low level of public service. The Agency will be challenged to provide a higher level of service.

Senator Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, was noted to remark that “This is an opportunity at the Social Security Administration to really take it to the next level, and it’s important to make sure it has the resources it needs”.

James Robinson Jr.

My choice for the next Commissioner is something of a dark horse. He is James Roosevelt Jr. He is a Health Care Insurance man and considering the controversy surrounding the implementation of ObamaCare, he would be a natural choice for President Obama for his 2nd term.

President Obama’s reelection lifted much of the cloud that hung over the health care industry in Massachusetts, where caregivers and insurers anticipated a push to repeal the national health care overhaul if Mitt Romney had become president. But Romney was not elected.

“This outcome provides an opportunity for greater cooperation and less contention,” said James Roosevelt Jr., chief executive of Tufts Health Plan.

But health care organizations are still seeking clarity on many features of ObamaCare, also known as the Affordable Care Act, many of which have not yet taken effect. The federal overhaul includes regulations requiring insurers to invest in new technology and funds for expanding Medicaid and revamping Medicare payments as the states press forward with their own efforts to rein in costs and build more integrated health care networks.

Obama’s victory “removes a layer of uncertainty for health plans, providers, and employers,” said Andrew Dreyfus, chief executive of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, the state’s largest health insurer.

In 2012 James Robinson Jr wrote an op-ed with Robert L. Reynolds, a Republican and CEO of Putnam Investments,  where he advocates raising the Social Security retirement age at a brisker pace and cutting back the growth of benefits with a different Consumer Price Index (CPI).

Robinson wrote “.. we should accelerate the rise in Social Security’s full-benefit retirement age from age 67 to 68 by 2030 and then index the full benefit age for future generations to gains in longevity. Life expectancy past age 65 has risen nearly 50 percent since 1940, when Social Security first began regular monthly payments. That said, we should improve disability options for those engaged in physically demanding jobs. No one expects coal miners or telephone line crews to work into their late 60s.”

He went further to say “On the benefits side, we should change the way we calculate the cost-of-living adjustment for all beneficiaries, by utilizing a revised Consumer Price Index which most economists agree more accurately reflects the rate of inflation for the expenses most seniors incur. Such a change would curb the rate of increase in benefits for future generations of retirees […]”

Considering President Obama’s attitude and behavior with respect to the “Fiscal Cliff” negotiations I am betting he will select James Robinson Jr to be the next Commissioner of the Social Security Administration.

This just in from former Democratic Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey.

The press and public have understandably focused in recent weeks on high-profile appointments such as the secretaries of state, defense and treasury as President Barack Obama builds his second-term team. They also should pay close attention to the search for a man or woman to serve as commissioner of the Social Security Administration — a post central to the national welfare and, with a six-year term, an appointment that will continue into the next presidency.

The Social Security Administration, headquartered just outside Baltimore in Woodlawn, touches the lives and pocketbooks of nearly every American. With this cornerstone of our social compact under demographic pressure and political threat, the president’s choice for a successor is vitally important.

Washington is a land of partisan extremes these days, a place where compromise is an orphan and dealmakers are a rare sight. Inevitably, Social Security will again be a political football as Congress attempts to manage America’s fiscal challenges. As a veteran of more than a few policy debates and political fights — some of which didn’t end the way I’d have liked — I want suggest what I think are key job requirements for the new commissioner:

•The nominee should bring substantial managerial experience. The Social Security Administration has roughly 62,000 employees. The agency processes payments of $4.5 billion to 6 million recipients every month. It needs a strong CEO capable of running a large and complex organization that does high-stakes work.

•The nominee should bring considerable policy expertise. For more than 20 years, actuaries have battled, often very publicly, over the viability of Social Security’s funding mechanism. It would be profoundly foolish today to ignore the demographic challenges the retirement of baby boomers will pose to the system. The remedy should not be a Band-Aid, but structural reform for the long haul.

The next commissioner, unlike some predecessors, should bring to the job a detailed historical knowledge of Social Security — of decisions that have made the system stronger and of others that have weakened it.

•Diplomatic skills will be essential. The commissioner of Social Security will need to deal not only with criticism from his or her natural political opponents but also with substantial pressure from natural allies. A commissioner perceived as a zealot or out of touch with the private sector will have a hard time advancing arguments for a new structure of benefits or changes to Social Security’s long term funding.

•The commissioner of Social Security needs considerable fortitude. One of the most important aspects of the job is appearing before Congress (approximately four times a year, though the frequency can shift). For at least the next two years, that will mean confronting a Republican-controlled Congress whose leadership lives in fear of tea partiers whose rhetoric would suggest they’d like to see Social Security dismantled altogether. The next commissioner of Social Security will need the strength of will and command of facts necessary to stand toe-to-toe with well-prepared congressional foes.

•Finally, the next commissioner will have to be someone passionately dedicated to the principles that underlie the Social Security system and eloquent in articulating those principles.

The vast majority of Americans want a fair system that offers dignity to the elderly while preserving economic opportunity for current and future workers. They deserve a commissioner who can ensure Social Security operates properly, provide a vision for its long-term future and lead the fight to preserve it from political critics or demographic threats.

(Bill Bradley)

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Judge London Steverson, This Is Your Life

Judge London Steverson has written the story of his life. Trying to write a book about my life is like trying to describe the landscape by looking out the window of a moving train. The events continue to unfold faster than one can describe them. My life is a work in progress. For this reason I have decided to look at my life in phases that have a clearly defined beginning and an end. In this book I intend to describe that part of my life that was shaped by my involvement in the Martial Arts.

I, London Eugene Livingston Steverson retired from the United States Coast Guard in 1988 as a Lieutenant Commander (LCDR). Later, I retired from the Social Security Administration (SSA) as the Senior Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in the Office of Disability Appeals and Review (ODAR) Downey, California.
In 1964, I was one of the first two African Americans to receive an Appointment as a Cadet to the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. I graduated in 1968. After two years at sea on an Icebreaker, the USCGC Glacier (WAGB-4), and another two years as a Search and Rescue Operations Officer in the 17th Coast Guard District Juneau, Alaska, I was appointed Chief of the newly formed Minority Recruiting Section in the Office of Personnel at Coast Guard Headquarters, 7th and D Street, SW, in Washington, DC. My primary duty was to recruit Black High School graduates for the Coast Guard Academy. This was my passion, so I set about this in a most vigorous manner.
I have written several books concerning Military Justice, famous Courts-martial Cases, and Social Security Disability Determination Cases. I am a retired member of the New York State Bar Association, The Association of The Bar of The City of New York, and The Tennessee Bar Associations.
A Presidential Executive Order issued by President Harry Truman had desegregated the armed forces in 1948, but the military academies lagged far behind in officer recruiting.
President John F. Kennedy specifically challenged the Coast Guard Academy to increase appointments to qualified Black American high school students.
I was one of the first Black High School students to be offered such an appointment in 1964. I had a Black classmate from New Jersey, Kenny Boyd. We would become known as “The Kennedy Cadets”, because the pressure to recruit us originated with President John F. Kennedy.
On June 4, 1968, I graduated from the Coast Guard Academy with a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering and a commission as an Ensign in the U.S. Coast Guard.
My first duty assignment out of the Academy was in Antarctic research logistical support. In July 1968 I reported aboard the Coast Guard Cutter (CGC) Glacier (WAGB-4), an icebreaker operating under the control of the U.S. Navy. I served as a deck watch officer and head of the Marine Science Department. I traveled to Antarctica during two patrols from July 1968 to August 1969, supporting the research operations of the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Research Project in and around McMurdo Station.
In 1974, while still an active duty member of the Coast Guard, I entered The National Law Center of The George Washington University. I graduated in 1977 with a Juris Doctor of Laws Degree.
I worked as a Law Specialist in the 12th Coast Guard District Office, San Francisco, California and as an Assistant U. S. Attorney for the collection of Civil Penalties under the Federal Boating Safety Act from 1979 to 1982. As Assistant District Legal Officer, I was required to defend as well as prosecute military members who had been charged with violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Occasionally I was asked to represent other officers in administrative actions involving sexual harassment and discrimination. One such case was the Case of Christine D. Balboni . 

 Ensign (ENS) Balboni was one of the first female graduates of the Academy, Class of 1981. She filed the first case of Sexual Harassment case in the military.

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Fugitive Attorney Eric Conn Faces Life Imprisonment In Social Security Benefits Fraud Case

Employee allegedly helped fugitive lawyer Eric Conn plot his escape for a year

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Social Security Judge Paid $14,000.00 A Month Not To Hold Hearings. Just Decide The Cases

Mr. Social Security, Attorney Eric Conn and two others conspired to have the Social Security Administration pay a total of $600 million in disability benefits to thousands of people without regard to whether they actually deserved the money.

Flamboyant Social Security lawyer Eric C. Conn, who won disability checks for thousands of people in Eastern Kentucky but caused heartache for many former clients after he was accused of cheating on cases, pleaded guilty Friday in a federal fraud case.

Conn, 56, pleaded guilty to one count of stealing from the Social Security Administration and one count of paying illegal gratuities to a federal judge.

This lawyer, Eric Conn, has an Affirmative Defense. He could say Judge Daugherty “Entrapped” him.

The Judge asked for bribes in exchange for granting benefits in each case. The Judge demanded from $10 thousand to $14 thousand a month in payoffs.

The Judge knew how much each case was worth in terms of benefits; Past Due benefits and prospective monthly benefits for life. These are based on the AOD, DOD, the age and (RFC) Residual Functional Capacity of the Claimant in each case. (AOD is Alleged onset date) (DOD is Determined onset date)
The Judge had wide discretion in each case to adjust these variables to obtain maximum benefits.
The Lawyer Conn may have been an unwilling dupe of Judge Daugherty.
Atty Conn could plead “Entrapment “.

Conn, who lives in Pikeville, admitted he submitted false documentation for clients seeking disability payments and paid off a federal administrative law judge who approved the claims.

“I submitted or allowed the submission of medical records that I knew to be fraudulent in nature,” Conn said when U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves asked him to describe his illegal conduct.

Conn admitted he submitted false documents in “well over” 1,700 cases, the Department of Justice said.

Conn declined comment after the hearing. However, his attorney, Scott White, said people “should reserve judgment” about Conn’s role in the fraud until after the trial of two others charged in the case.

The other defendants are David B. Daugherty, a former Social Security judge accused of rubber-stamping benefit claims for Conn’s clients in return for payoffs, and Pikeville psychologist Alfred Bradley Adkins, who allegedly signed false mental-impairment evaluations of Conn’s clients.

Conn faces up to 12 years in prison, though his sentence will likely be lower under advisory federal guidelines. He is to be sentenced July 14.

He agreed to pay the government at least $5.7 million he received as a result of engaging in fraud. His plea agreement also calls for $46.5 million in restitution to the Social Security Administration.

Conn was indicted last April on more than a dozen charges, including mail and wire fraud, conspiring to retaliate against a witness, destroying evidence and money laundering.

Those charges will be dismissed as part of his plea arrangement.

Reeves allowed Conn to remain out of jail pending sentencing, but continued an earlier order of home detention.

Conn built a lucrative practice specializing in federal disability cases, promoting himself on television and on billboards throughout Eastern Kentucky.

He worked out of an office complex made of five connected mobile homes in Floyd County with a 19-foot-tall statue of Abraham Lincoln out front, hired bluegrass music legend Ralph Stanley to appear in a music video for him and once put a Miss Kentucky USA on the payroll for $70,000 a year as his public relations director.

                                                   (Miss Kentucky, Kia Hampton)

Conn will sell his house and forfeit the office complex and Lincoln statue to help pay the government.

The Social Security Administration paid Conn’s firm $23 million from August 2005 to September 2015 for his work, according to one court order, making him one of the top earners in the program nationally.

However, whistleblowers in the Huntington, W.Va. office of the Social Security Administration, which handles appeals of cases from Eastern Kentucky, raised red flags about Conn’s relationship with an administrative judge there, David B. Daugherty.

A federal investigation ultimately led to charges that Conn falsified medical documents to show his clients were disabled, and paid doctors $300 to $450 apiece to sign completed evaluations supporting the claims.

Then, Daugherty allegedly arranged for Conn’s cases to be assigned to him — even allegedly taking over cases after they’d been assigned to other judges — and approved the claims, often without holding hearings.

Conn said in his plea agreement that the scheme went back to October 2004.

Daugherty told Conn at a hearing that his rulings were making Conn a lot of money, and then solicited $5,000 from Conn to help a family member with addiction rehabilitation, Conn told prosecutors.

Conn said that when he didn’t pay right away, Daugherty called him later the same day, reminded him of Daugherty’s favorable rulings and said he “needed to have that money,” the agreement said.

Conn, knowing the success of his practice depended in part on a good relation with Daugherty, paid him. The next month, Daugherty told Conn he would be needing $10,000 a month, the plea agreement said.

When Conn paid the first $10,000, Daugherty said, “Let’s not be stupid here,” cautioning Conn against withdrawing more than $10,000 at a time from his bank account to pay Daugherty because the bank would have to report the transaction.

After the scam had been going on for some time, Daugherty told Conn to come up with more varied false medical reports to avoid suspicion.

Atty Conn paid Judge Daugherty $8,000 to $14,000 a month from late 2004 through the spring of 2011, when Daugherty quit after Social Security investigators began an inquiry, according to the agreement Conn signed.

Judge Daugherty was actually paid “not” to hold Hearings. He decided the cases without Hearings.

He did not review the Record either. He simply granted/paid every case. The Judge was a “high producer”. He closed more cases, up to 1800 a year, than any other ALJ. The average ALJ closed about 500 a year. But he did not hold Hearings. He rubber stamped blocks of cases without reviewing the case files.

It is impossible to decide 1,800 cases a year as Daugherty did. There is not enough time to hold the Hearings and write the decisions. A Judge cannot publish 200 decisions a month.

There was the gross disparity in the length of hearings, that is, the time a Social Security claimant actually spends in front of a judge. After waiting for an average of 2 years for their day in court, most claimants spend less than an hour in an actual hearing. Most cases last about an hour.  Some judges were found to make snap decisions in just a few minutes. There are reports that some judges simply flip a coin to decide whether a claimant wins or loses. Since the judges do not even write their own decisions, some decision writers have complained that the judges’ decision writing instructions consist of nothing more than a “smiley face’ or a “frowning face” on a piece of paper. And the worst case of all are the reports of judges who decide over 200 cases a month without even bothering to hold a hearing. They simply “pay the cases” to get rid of them. This is called “paying down the backlog” in the language of the Social Security Office. The backlog of over 770,000 disability claimants could be a factor in the rapid decisions.

(

For years attorneys have been known to forum shop. They search for Hearing Offices that have a high degree of reversals of cases on appeal; or, they search for judges known to be more likely to grant benefits.The Social Security Administration has halted the process of informing applicants of which judge will preside over their hearings. This practice will prevent SSD attorneys from “shopping” for a lenient judge.

For 13 years Judge Daugherty was allowed to pervert the SSA System without any action by SSA. Judge Daugherty operated with the implicit authorization of The SSA. They knew and implicitly approved of what he was doing. He was serving their clients; i.e., disability claimants. 

 Contrary to all logic, Social Security Judge Dave Daugherty was paid up to $14,000.00 a month by Atty Eric Conn to grant his clients benefits without holding a Hearing or in some cases without reviewing the medical records.
Judge Daugherty received over $2,000,000.00 in bribes between 2002 and 2015.
The Social Security Administration continued to pay him his salary of $167,000.00 a year because he was a “high producer” deciding more cases than most other Judges.

Conn confirmed he destroyed records after learning of the investigation.

Conn’s plea deal said Adkins began doing mental-impairment tests on his clients in 2004. Adkins said he spent more than three hours with people, but in fact spent 30 minutes and estimated their IQ — rather than actually testing — and assigned scores to make them appear more disabled, Conn’s plea agreement said.

Adkins didn’t like doing the assessments, however, so in 2006, he told Conn to fill them out himself, saying “It’s all bull—- anyway,” according to the plea.

Conn created several standard templates on impairment and filled them out, and Adkins signed them, Conn told authorities.

The plea agreement said Conn faked X-ray reports as well, and lists two unnamed, un-indicted co-conspirators who allegedly took part in the fraud.

The claims for Conn clients approved by Daugherty and others based on fraudulent documents obligated the SSA to pay $550 million in lifetime benefits, and the government actually paid $46.5 million to people that the agency has determined were not eligible to receive, the plea document said.

Daugherty and Adkins have pleaded innocent.

The Social Security Administration was complicit in the fraud scheme. It went on for about 13 years. They threaten to fire anyone who went public. Several Whistleblowers were punished as it is.

The SSA benefited by the fraud and deception. The SSA manipulated the statistics to show improving numbers in lowering the Back Log of over due Hearings.

SSA even sent Judge Daugherty difficult cases to get rid of, cases that were embarrassingly old and needed to be buried. It is common practice today to send cases from one Region to another and from one Hearing Office to another.
Commissioner Mike Astrue was the SSA Commissioner during part of the 13 years. The Chief Judge Frank Cristado (CALJ) knew about Judge Daugherty and the fraud scheme. He must have discussed it many times over coffee with SSA Commissioner Astrue and the SSA Chief Counsel.
This fraud was no secret. Commissioners had gone on and Chief Judges have retired or been fired but this fraud was an “open secret ” discussed in the 9 Regional Offices and Hearing Offices across the country. Even in California it was common knowledge.
So, now Atty Eric Conn and Judge Daugherty are to take the fall for the entire episode. It took hundreds of staff employees and all of the Headquarters people to perpetuate this charade on the American people. Atty Conn is a fall guy.

Two former employees in the Huntington SSA office, Jennifer Griffith and Sarah Carver, said they tried for years to bring attention to suspected wrongdoing by Daugherty and Conn.

The two, who faced retaliation after making reports to superiors and ultimately left the agency, attended Conn’s plea hearing.

“I’m glad to see that someone is finally being punished,” Griffith said.

However, both said there were others in the agency who took part in improper or illegal conduct.

They are suing under the federal False Claims Act, which allows whistleblowers to get a portion of the money the government recovers in fraud cases.

In May 2015, nearly a year before Conn was indicted, the Social Security Administration(SSA) abruptly notified hundreds of his former clients that the agency would suspend their checks while redetermining if they were still eligible.

The SSA said it was taking that action because there was reason to believe some cases Conn’s firm handled included fraudulent information from four doctors.

The move was a blow in Eastern Kentucky, where disability income is a significant part of the economy.

The SSA decided not to cut off off checks during the re-determination process after Republican U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers interceded.

However, SSA went ahead with re-determination hearings.

The SSA allowed Judge Daugherty and Attorney Conn to operate their fraud scheme for over 13 years. That is over 150 months that SSA knew and paid bogus benefits in bogus cases. Why? To eliminate a Back Log of cases?

 This benefited the SSA Commissioners, Mike Astrue and others. It allowed them to testify on the Hill about bringing down the Back Log of overdue cases waiting for a Hearing. Some people were waiting about 5 years to get a Hearing.

 This fraud scheme was beneficial to the SSA bean counters in Washington DC. It allowed them to pad their statistics and maybe advance their careers.

The SSA ultimately identified about 1,500 beneficiaries, most of them in Eastern Kentucky, for re-determination hearings, said Prestonsburg attorney Ned Pillersdorf, who led an effort to find attorneys for the people.

Most of the hearings are over, and a little less than half the people won decisions to keep their benefits, meaning about 800 people lost money they depended on, Pillersdorf said.

“It’s a humanitarian crisis,” Pillersdorf said.

People who lost benefits can appeal.

Pillersdorf is representing former Conn clients in a class-action lawsuit that seeks damages from him. His guilty plea is good news in that effort to get people money, Pillersdorf said.

(Well-known disability lawyer Eric Conn pleads guilty in federal fraud case; March 24, 2017;

Estep, Bill; Lexington Herald Leader)

Eric C. Conn opened his law practice 23 years ago in a trailer in his hometown of Stanville, Kentucky, population 500. There, he built the third most lucrative disability firm in the nation.

When the Dyes went looking for a lawyer in 2008, Conn was everywhere.

He paid young women he called “Conn’s hotties” to attend events across the region with his 1-800 number printed across their tank tops. He erected a 19-foot replica of the Lincoln Memorial in the parking lot of his law complex at a cost, he claimed, of a half-million dollars. He commissioned life-sized Conn effigies to sit atop billboards on the highways; in an online ad, he bragged that he had sent a local boy with terminal cancer to Disney World, and closed with a preacher’s benediction giving thanks to God for Conn’s kindness.

Tim Dye hurt his back in the mines years ago and a car wreck in 2008 aggravated his injuries. He had surgery for ruptured discs and disintegrating cartilage. He resisted applying for disability, his wife said, until it got to where he couldn’t push in the clutch in his truck or bend over to tie his shoes.

His application was denied.

About three-quarters of applicants’ initial claims are rejected, and many turn to lawyers to help them appeal. That means big money for attorneys doing disability claims in bulk. If they win on appeal, applicants are entitled to payments dating back to when they became unable to work and lawyers get a chunk of that money, paid directly by the agency.

Conn racked in more than $20 million in fees.

Media reports in 2011 questioned his relationship with government-employed Administrative Law Judge David Daugherty, who approved nearly all of Conn’s clients for disability. In 2013, former U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, led an investigation into abuse of the disability program. He entitled his report, “How Some Legal, Medical and Judicial Professionals Abused Social Security Disability Programs for the Country’s Most Vulnerable: A Case Study of the Conn Law Firm.”

For 161 pages, it described an elaborate system in which Conn paid doctors and Daugherty to rubber-stamp disability claims, using phony medical evidence.

Years passed. Conn was not criminally charged, and he remained in good standing with the Kentucky Bar Association. Donna Dye says she and her husband were unaware of any improprieties — the Social Security Administration has acknowledged there’s no evidence Conn’s clients were involved in the scheme. The Dyes took him their records, went to the appointments he arranged and trusted he took care of the rest.

But in May 2015, 11 months before Conn was formally accused of any crime, the Social Security Administration contacted his clients. The letters said their lawyer was suspected of having colluded with a judge and their doctors to file claims using fraudulent medical evidence. It told them their benefits were suspended, and gave them 10 days to collect their medical records from years before and prove once again they had been disabled.

Local attorney Ned Pillersdorf’s phone started ringing. He heard a hundred letters were sent out and panicked. Then he heard it was several hundred, then 900. Before the scope of the chaos settled into focus, a colleague made an ominous prediction.

“There will be suicides,” he said.

Within weeks, three people took their own lives, including Melissa Jude, on disability for a decade for anxiety and depression. She was on her way to Pillersdorf’s office when she pulled over to the side of the road and shot herself in the head.

The death toll startled Republican Congressman Hal Rogers, whose district includes the hardest-hit counties of eastern Kentucky. He convinced the Social Security Administration to allow Conn’s clients to keep their checks as they struggled in a series of hearings to prove they deserved them all along. The Appalachian Research and Defense Fund, a legal aid organization in eastern Kentucky, grew so worried they recruited the largest network of volunteer attorneys since the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Now led by Pillersdorf, the band of 150 lawyers — some of the best disability attorneys in the nation — has become a sort grassroots suicide prevention network. “We are fighting for you,” they tell people over and over. “You are not alone against the government.”

Still, at least once a week, Pillersdorf fields a suicide threat. They plead publicly on Facebook that they want to die. They call his office. They call his home.

“Why live?” Kevin Robertson wrote him.

Robertson, a 41-year old with an anxiety disorder, a bad back and an eighth-grade education, lost his $1,035 monthly draw. He hadn’t worked in a decade and says his anxiety is so crippling he can barely leave his bedroom. He lost his house and everything in it.

“I know some people killed theirselves,” he wrote. “To be honest, Ned, I’ve had some crazy thoughts myself.”

Another man told him he’s now sleeping in his pick-up truck. A woman wrote that she and her children kept only their camping gear and went out to live in the woods.

The stress is beginning to wear on Pillersdorf now, too. His wife begged him to see a doctor. His colleagues worry he’s coming undone.

“I want this nightmare to be over,” he said, the fraying hems peeking from the leg of his trousers and the framed diplomas crooked on his office wall. “I don’t remember what life was like before this started. And I don’t know if we’re at the end or the beginning.”


Grocery stores in Floyd County, Kentucky, are overrun when the disability checks arrive the first week of the month. Traffic backs up on the main drag in downtown Prestonsburg, the county seat. Even the Papa John’s doubles its number of delivery drivers.

The payments prop up an economy that struggled, then collapsed in recent years along with the coal industry.

One of every six working-aged adults here gets a check, more than three times the American average.

Coburn attributes that to a broken system abused by those who don’t truly deserve it, yet grow dependent on government benefits. They should have known better than to hire a “shyster lawyer,” he said, and those who didn’t deserve benefits in the first place shouldn’t draw another dime. Government dependency, he believes, is the first step toward tyranny.

“Do I feel sorry for them? Yes,” he said. “Do they have hardships? Yes. But do they meet the qualifications for Social Security Disability? Absolutely not. Here’s what the law says: if you can do any job in the economy you don’t qualify for disability. Rules have to mean something, and life isn’t fair.”

The disability program was not designed to be welfare. It is an insurance program. Every American worker pays a premium out of their paycheck under an agreement with the government that a percentage of their salary will be paid to them if one day they become too disabled to work.

Tim Dye started working in the mines when he was 17. He thought when he hired Conn 26 years later, he was collecting what he was due.

His family grew entirely dependent on that check. His wife worked for the county government for nearly 18 years, until she was laid off in 2015. She didn’t worry too much then about losing her job. Her husband’s disability check came every month, around $2,200. It wasn’t a lot for a couple with a son still in high school and two granddaughters living with them. But it was stable and they made do, and expected life to go on the way it always had in their yellow house on the edge of a mountain.

Earlier this year, her husband went to the Social Security office for his initial re-determination hearing, thinking that his inclusion on the suspension list must have been some sort of mistake. But a vocational expert told the judge Dye’s back problems wouldn’t prevent him from working a desk job. He was denied, and the checks stopped coming seven months ago.

They wonder who would want to hire an old coal miner for a sit-down job, with nothing more than a high school diploma, a crippled back and an eight-year gap on his resume.

“In a month or two, we won’t have nothing,” he said. “We’re losing everything.”


The volunteer lawyers representing Conn’s former clients say the deck is stacked against them: The agency is assuming fraud without having to prove to any court that any of them committed it. The Office of the Inspector General identified applications that included Conn’s suspect medical evidence. But the report is confidential, no one has seen the evidence the agency relied on to determine why this particular pile of claims was assumed to be fraudulent.

Citing a 1994 law, the agency is forbidding Conn’s clients from using any medical evidence from the doctors alleged to have been involved in his scheme.

Pillersdorf said many of his clients were on disability for mental illness and cognitive disabilities. Now they are expected to recall the names of the other doctors they saw 10 years ago and pray they still have the records, Pillersdorf said.

They can’t go back to original files they handed over to their lawyer. Conn is alleged to have destroyed millions of pages of documents. Coburn’s investigation found that he shredded 26,000 pounds of paper when the senate started to investigate. His former employees testified he burned more in a bonfire behind his office that grew so big it smoldered for four days.

He was charged with 18 crimes, including mail fraud, wire fraud, destruction of records, money laundering, making false statements and conspiracy.

Conn’s attorneys did not respond to calls requesting an interview. He was released on bond pending his trial scheduled for next summer. His bail was secured by his $1.5 million estate in Pikeville.

Of the hundreds of his clients initially suspended, about half have won their cases. The other half, including the Dyes, were cut off. Their cases are entangled now in a series of lawsuits in federal court.

At least one judge agreed that the procedure is unfair. U.S. District Judge Amul Thapar — on President-elect Donald Trump’s short list for the U.S. Supreme Court — issued an opinion last month that found a number of Conn’s clients were afforded fewer protections than suspected terrorists and ordered the Social Security Administration to reconsider its process. But another federal judge sided with the agency. The question will now likely be settled by a federal appeals court. The agency declined to talk about the process.

In the meantime, many of those who lost are living with no income.

The Dyes couldn’t pay the water bill, so Donna Dye designed a system of hoses and barrels to collect run off from the hill that juts up behind her house, “the old-fashioned mountain way,” she says.

Then a man came to switch off the lights. He gave her enough time to get to the pawn shop, cash in her engagement ring and pay the bill.

She signed up for food stamps. But her husband is too proud to spend them. To him, disability was earned; food stamps are welfare.

She had hoped to find a job that paid almost as much as she made with the county, $12.45 an hour. She’s 49 years old, with only a GED. They live in rural Floyd County, 23 miles from the county seat, and just putting gas in their old truck to get to and from town eats up a couple hours of minimum wage work. But she gave up and put in 40 applications, from the Dollar Store to cleaning rooms at a cheap motel. She posted advertisements all over town offering babysitting or housecleaning for $10 an hour. She’s had no takers.

They raised their kids in a hollow nearby in a rickety two-bedroom house with no heat. When Tim was still working, about 10 years ago, they bought this bigger place for $85,000 and thought it meant they’d made it to the middle class. She said it was one of the happiest days of her life, and she went out and got the big dining room table she always wanted, with eight chairs so she could have the whole family over for dinners.

The mortgage got behind by three months. The bank called to collect and she panicked. She put a sign in her yard. “Open house, everything must go.” Her neighbors picked through her belongings. She sold her couch, her dishes and every television they owned. A woman offered her $20 each for five of her eight dining room chairs.

“This has been pure hell. Worry, just worry, that’s all I do,” she said and slumped into one of the three chairs she has left.

“I’m almost out of stuff to pawn.”


Most people — even Conn’s former clients — believe fraud is rampant in the disability system. They point to a distant relative or a man down the street, who seems healthy and able to work but still draws a check. Pillersdorf calls them “fakers,” people knowingly gaming the system, and said he hasn’t met one in his stack of Conn’s former clients yet. The reality is much more complicated.

The very definition of disability is open for debate. Mental illness is hard to measure. Pain is impossible to see.

“There is no medical condition called disability,” said David Autor, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “You can’t go to a doctor and have them say, ‘I’ve got bad news for you, son, you’ve got a disability.’ Disability is a social construct; it’s how much we want you to be suffering before you shouldn’t have to work.”

The nature of disability has evolved since its inception in the 1950s, when it was designed to support people with severe physical limitations — blindness, paralysis, heart disease. The program rapidly expanded in the 1970s and the federal government clamped down and kicked nearly a half-million people off the rolls. But it backfired: The public was incensed at the thought of suffering people cut off. Congress in 1984 responded by writing a more generous definition of disability which required that the agency consider pain, mental illness and combinations of less serious ailments in awarding disability.

The number of Americans in the program has skyrocketed since, from 1.8 million people in 1970 to more than 10 million today, only some of which can be attributed to aging baby boomers and more women in the workforce. Nationwide, 4.7 percent of Americans rely on Social Security Disability. But in some pockets, that number is far higher. Autor calls it the “disability belt,” a swath across the South and Appalachia, where levels of education are among the lowest in the nation and jobs in mining or manufacturing have disappeared.

Dan Black, an economist at University of Chicago, studied how the rate of disability shot up when the coal industry declined. He pointed to a system tied more to economics than to physical impairments. But he doesn’t believe that translates to fraud.

“I’m not sure what we mean by fraud,” he said. “Obviously it’s fraud if I have no health problems that prevent me from working. But there are big gray areas in between. If I have significant pain in my back, is that enough to keep me from working? Maybe. But maybe not. It is a very, very difficult line to draw.”

Black has a colleague who uses a wheelchair. If he were a coalminer, he would be disabled. But he has advanced degrees and works as an economist at a university. The very definition of disability is inherently tied to education and skill and the labor market.

Americans have tasked administrative law judges employed by the Social Security Administration with choosing who deserves disability and who does not.

The stakes are high. A tiny fraction of those who enter the disability program ever leave it for a job, said David Stapleton, who runs the Mathematica Center for Studying Disability Policy. The government spends an average of $300,000 in lifetime benefits for each person in the system. The disability fund is going broke. Congress routed money last year from the retirement fund into the disability fund, a move he likened to “robbing Peter to pay Paul when Peter’s already in trouble.”

But the solution, he said, is to work with people on the front end to keep them in the workforce, not kick them off after they’ve been out of the labor market for too many years to be reasonably expected to return to it.

“Just throwing them off the rolls without considering what that means for them,” he said, “seems pretty irresponsible.”


Donna Dye looked in the mirror not long ago and was stunned by the bags under her eyes, the frayed edges of her long curly ponytail.

Just a year ago, she would have never left the house without fixing her hair and putting on lipstick.

Somewhere along the way, she thought, she had run out of pride. She doesn’t know exactly when it happened. Maybe it was on one of the trips to the pawn shop. Or maybe when her mother gave her all she could — four piggy banks, labeled “quarters,” ”dimes,” ”nickels,” ”pennies” — and she took them.

She told herself to accept it, resign to a life of poverty, and move back to that rickety old house in the hollow with no heat because she couldn’t stand the stress of caring anymore.

She fixates now on the dents in the drywall, the peeling paint, the cracks in the concrete porch. She trained herself to hate this house she had loved so much. She will not weep when the bank comes to take it away.

(Tangled In Fraud Probe, 100s Face Lose Of Disability Checks;  Schneider, Mike Jan 07, 2017, AP)

Former Commissioner Michael Astrue said judges (Administrative Law Judges, ALJs) at SSA who award disability benefits more than 85% of the time cost taxpayers roughly $1 billion a year. (See )That is not true. If he is referring to Social Security Disability Insured (SSDI) Benefits, the claimants have paid into a fund that insures them against disability. Those benefits do not come from the General Fund. They are not taxpayers’ money. Also, ALJs do not award $1 Billion a year in Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. SSI is welfare and does come from taxpayer‘s funds.

Conversely, ALJs who do not pay legitimate benefits to claimants who qualify for benefits are not saving the taxpayers any money. Commissioner Astrue also said judges who deny benefits in 80% or more of their cases end up saving taxpayers $200 million each year. That is not true either.

Though he said that he wasn’t suggesting that was a practice he condoned, he is trying to have his cake and eat it too.

Commissioner Astrue’s testimony has not changed much, if at all, since he appeared before Congress in May 2007 and April 2008. (His statements and testimony are recorded in detail in my book, socialNsecurity, beginning at page 443. Available at He is still blaming the judges, asking for more money, more judges, and more time to reduce the backlog. Since 2007 the number of judges has gone from 1200 to 1500 and the backlog continues to grow. And Mr. Astrue continues to make excuses.

Mr. Astrue wants to have it both ways. “I find it interesting that there is so much wringing of the hands about a judge who pays almost 100% of his cases, as if the agency didn’t know about it, as if the agency wasn’t complicit in it, as if the agency didn’t encourage it,” said Marilyn Zahm, a Social Security judge in Buffalo who is an executive vice president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges (AALJ), the judges’ union.

Judge Zahm had a lot more to say in an interview in October 2009. (Read the entire interview starting at page 430 in my book, socialNsecurity, available at or

It is a bit surprising that Judge Zahm would be so out-spoken, considering the minimum amount of work she does and the astranomical amount of money she is paid. According to Social Security records Judge Zahm issued only 26 decisions for the 9 months between September 2010 and June 2011. At a salary of $167,000.00 per year, she earned $6,423.00 per decision. An average hearing lasts about 30 minutes; so, her hourly wage for that period was about $12,846.00. That is a nice salary for so little work.

However, Judge Zahm is only the Vice President of the AALJ. Perhaps, the President, Judge Randy Frye, sets a better example. According to Social Security records Judge Frye issued only 37 decisions for the 9 months between September 2010 and June 2011. At a salary of $167,000.00 per year, he earned $4,513.50 per decision. An average hearing lasts about 30 minutes; so, his hourly wage for that period was about $9,027.00. That is also a nice salary for so little work.

Judges Zahm and Frye are not unique. During the same period Judge Mark Anderson issued only 3 decisions; Judge JoAnn Andersen issued only 5 decisions; Judge William King held only 4 hearings and issued 1 decision. He was busy traveling between California and Hawaii to conduct the hearings.

These statistics came from an SSA report which contains raw data from SSA’s Case Processing and Management System without regard to the amount of time Administrative Law Judges devote to actual adjudication. In other words, factors which would affect the number of dispositions (e.g., management and administrative responsibilities, special assignments, part-time status, union representational duties, retirements, deaths or extended leave, etc.) have not been taken into account.

Here is what Commissioner Astrue is failing to say. The 1500 SSA ALJs earn approximately $167,000 a year each. The salaries of those ALJs is $2 billion 505 million a year. That figure does not include the about $3 billion a year which pays the salaries of the ALJs support staff and Commissioner Astrue’s salary and that of his support staff. Also 20% of the ALJs do not hold any hearings.

Some ALJs decide 200 cases per month without holding hearings. They award benefits in 100% of their cases, trying to “pay down the backlog” like the judge in Huntington, W.Va., who awarded benefits in every case he saw in the first six months of fiscal 2011.

A GS-9 lawyer could perform the same function at a fraction of the cost. A GS-9 lawyer earns about $40,000 a year. The cost to the taxpayer of 1500 such lawyers would be only $60 million a year. That is much less than the $2 and a half billion in salaries to 1500 ALJs. That is where the cuts should begin, not with benefits to claimants.

Just 4 years ago in the middle of the economic downturn there were 1200 ALJs. Today there are upwards to 1500 according to Commissioner Astrue. The backlog of cases waiting to be heard has not decreased, despite pressure from Mr. Astrue to force the ALJs to “pay down the backlog”. Yet, Mr. Astrue keeps hiring more judges at $167 thousand a year. It appears that Commissioner Astrue is trying to lower the unemployment rate by hiring more judges while President Obama is having difficulty creating jobs for mainstream America.

Commissioner Astrue can be vague in his testimony before Congress. We can be specific as to who the ALJs are and how many cases they decide each month and their reversal rates. See

A court-by-court analysis of close to two million Social Security Administration (SSA) claims has documented extensive and hard-to-explain disparities in the way the administrative law judges (ALJs) within the agency’s separate hearing offices decide whether individuals will be granted or denied disability benefits.


Attorneys representing hundreds of people fighting to keep their Social Security federal disability benefits worry those benefits may disappear for most of them if they do not have a lawyer.

Each year, the Social Security Administration (SSA) orders thousands of  people to attend Re-Evaluation hearings to determine whether they should continue receiving disability checks.

Many of those people are former clients of  Attorney Eric C. Conn.

In 2011 a story appeared in the Wall Street Journal concerning the high rate in which SSA Judges approved Social Security disability cases.

Allegations of fraud came under investigation by a U.S. Senate committee Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., was the Chairman of The Senate Committee. The Committee’s Report found widespread fraud and 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, 78 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,” ALJ Daugherty told a fellow Huntington SSA ALJ, Algernon Tinsley, who worked in the same office, Mr. Tinsley recalled.

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 in the Social Security Hearing Office, 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, a la Hillary Clinton at the State Department.

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

In October 2013 a West Virginia Police Report said Judge Daugherty was found unconscious in his car in a Barboursville, WVa. 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.

Conn has not been charged with a crime. He is suspected by congressional investigators of using fraudulent information to win the benefits. Attorney Conn’s legal fate remains in the hands of the Obama Justice Department.

A prevailing concern is that disability recipients who do not hire an attorney to represent them at their re-determination hearings will lose their benefits.

Unrepresented Claimants should not go through one of these complicated re-determination hearings without a lawyer. People appearing before SSA Administrative Law Judges (ALJ) can get a free lawyer on a contingent fee basis. The attorney does not get paid unless the client wins the case.  That amounts to a free lawyer.

Many disability recipients do not hire legal representation for their hearings. They stand a good chance of losing their benefits.

Even some who were represented at Re-Determination Hearings  are still anxious to hear results.

“Not knowing … that’s been the worst thing is not knowing and trying to prepare in case you do lose your benefits,” one beneficiary said.

One attorney who specializes in representing Social Security Claimants has said in recent weeks several people have told him they’ve thought about killing themselves if they lose their benefits.

The suicide chatter is way up,” the Attorney said. “It was especially bad around Christmas. Unfortunately people have got this unfortunate response that suicide is somehow a rational response to losing their benefits”, the attorney said.

Family members of two people who killed themselves in 2015 are suing the Social Security Administration, because they believe that the Social Security Administration’s decision to terminate disability benefit checks was the reason they committed suicide. The families of of John Daniel Jude and Emma Burchett are convinced that the termination of their SSA benefits played a substantial role in their deaths.

Attorneys for John Daniel Jude and Emma Burchett filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Pikeville, KY.

The lawsuit alleges Burchett’s husband, Leroy Burchett, and Jude’s wife, Melissa Jude, killed themselves in June after getting notice that their benefits would be suspended.

More than 1,000 former clients of attorney Eric Conn received the same letter after Attorney Conn was accused of colluding with  Social Security Administrative Law Judge David Daugherty to rig Social Security cases.

These are desperate times for many people in America who were once considered among the Middle Class. They have seen their living standards decline and are struggling to make ends meet. Many were laid off in the last eight years and have not been able to find new jobs. They are not counted in the Unemployment Statistics because they have dropped out of the labor pool. Many are between the ages of 50 and 65 and do not yet qualify for Social Security Retirement Benefits. They have not even reached the age when they would be eligible to apply for early retirement. For many Baby Boomers that is around age 62.

A Social Security hearing is not a trial; it is a fact finding inquiry. The system is not even an adversarial system as defined by the judicial process. In an adversarial system, both sides are represented. In the present Social Security Disability Claims System the claimant can bring an attorney, but the system does not provide the government (SSA) with one. The taxpayers have no advocate on their behalf to ask questions, challenge medical evidence or review the 500 to 700 pages of materials that make up a typical case file.

The (Social Security Administration) judicial system is not run by anyone with real judicial experience. It is at the mercy of unelected bureaucrats whose only concern is how many cases each judge can churn out and how fast he or she can do it. An adversarial system with both sides represented and all evidence on the table is the best way to root out fraud and ensure that legitimate claims are paid.


An Interview of Judge D. RANDALL FRYE, President Association of Social Security Administrative Law Judges (AALJ) JAN. 19, 2014

(Above pictured is D. Randall Frye, on the right, with Marilyn Zahm)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — (QUOTE) IT’S hard to imagine a more cynical fraud. According to an indictment unsealed last week by the Manhattan district attorney’s office, post-9/11 phobias of airplanes and skyscrapers were among the fictitious ailments described by retired New York City police officers and firefighters who, in a scheme involving as many as 1,000 people, are accused of ripping off the Social Security disability system by filing false claims.

As an administrative law judge (ALJ) responsible for hearing Social Security disability cases (SSDI), I’m more familiar than most people with the system. But everyone has a right to be outraged by the recent charges. Officials estimate that the fraud cost the federal government $400 million. If true, it is the largest theft in the history of Social Security.

According to court papers, the fraudsters claimed to be so ill that they could not leave their homes to work, but many posted photographs on Facebook of themselves on motorcycles and water scooters, fishing and playing sports. How did they expect to get away with it?

Well, here’s a little-known fact. Neither the staff members of the Social Security Administration, who review initial claims, nor judges like myself, who hear disputed cases, are allowed to look at Facebook in the context of a case. Even if something in the case file suggests a claimant is not telling the whole truth, Social Security Administration policy prevents us from looking at social media, for fear that we cannot be trusted to properly assess the information gathered there. No Facebook, no Pinterest, no Twitter, no Tumblr. None of the sources that most employers routinely use to check the credibility of potential employees are available to us.

It gets worse. When a disputed case comes before an administrative law judge, a vast majority of claimants bring an attorney. After all, the average claim, if successful, will yield a payout of some $300,000 in lifetime benefits. With so much at stake, it’s only reasonable that a person who believes that he has wrongly been denied benefits would hire a lawyer. But isn’t it equally reasonable that the taxpayers should have an attorney present to challenge a claim that might be false?

Sorry, no luck. When I conduct a hearing (which occurs with no members of the press or public present, because of privacy concerns), the claimant can bring an attorney, but the system does not provide the government (SSA) with one. The taxpayers have no advocate on their behalf to ask questions, challenge medical evidence or review the 500 to 700 pages of materials that make up a typical case file. Not only that, but because of Social Security Administration policy, I am no longer allowed to order independent psychological testing to help determine whether a claimant is telling the truth.

Social Security disability courts have millions of claimants and constitute one of the world’s largest judicial systems. But the (Social Security judicial system) system is not run by anyone with real judicial experience. Instead, we are at the mercy of unelected bureaucrats whose only concern is how many cases each judge can churn out and how fast we can do it. The Social Security Administration is currently run by an acting commissioner; President Obama should appoint a permanent leader with recognized professional experience in the field of social insurance.

The Association of Administrative Law Judges AALJ), for which I serve as president, favors modernizing disability hearings so that we can give claimants a fair hearing while also protecting taxpayers. Our courtrooms ought to look more like what you see on “Law and Order” or “The Good Wife.” Each side should have an advocate, allowing judges to narrow the facts in dispute and apply the law in a neutral manner. And judges and their staff members should be able to use social media, including Facebook.

Though it is not clear from the Manhattan district attorney’s indictment if any of the claims in question ever wound up before an ALJ, it is clear than the current antiquated system handicaps the effective review of cases and encourages brazen behavior.

The system needs to be made more trustworthy and fully transparent. The actions of a few crooks must not be allowed to threaten the disability payments of millions of people who are genuinely disabled, many of whom paid into the disability insurance fund during their working lives. An adversarial system with both sides represented and all evidence on the table is the best way to root out fraud and ensure that legitimate claims are paid.(UNQUOTE)

D. Randall Frye is an administrative law judge for the United States Social Security Administration and the President of the AALJ, Association of Administrative Law Judges.

EXTRACT from the book ( “socialNsecurity, Confessions of a Social Security Judge”, published 2010, Introduction, p. 17)


Social Security Disability hearings are not trials. They are more in the nature of fact finding inquiries. They are presided over by an administrative law judge (ALJ), who is trained in the law. At a hearing only one side of the case is present and represented by an attorney or a paralegal. That is the claimant’s side.

If only one side of a controversy is present for the hearing, then why does the claimant need to have a judge presiding? When the Government wants to win a case, Congress designs a system that provides it with an advantage. In Immigration Hearings, the Government is represented by an attorney. When the Government is a party to a hearing before the Supreme Court, it is represented by the Solicitor General. In any other federal judicial forum where the Government has an interest, the Attorney General will ensure that the Government is adequately represented.

In Social Security Disability hearings the Government is not represented. The Government is not even present. That is probably because the system was designed to give the claimant an advantage. The case is the claimant’s case, to win or to lose. A judge is not needed to collect the medical records and listen to testimony that is not really cross-examined. The presiding officer is forced to accept the claimant’s testimony, no matter how farfetched it may be. The only evidence available to impeach the testimony of the witnesses is the evidence that the claimant provides. This could hardly be considered cross-examination.

In a trial there are usually two sides to a controversy. Each side is required to be present but may or may not be represented. A judge acts as referee to ensure that the rules of evidence and procedure are followed. There may or may not be a jury to determine the facts.

In a Social Security hearing only one side is present; that is the claimant, and his or her representative. The case is against the Government, but the Government is not present. Neither is the Government represented. That is because the system was designed to ensure that the claimant wins. After all, he is only asking for what is rightfully his. He has a social contract with the Government. He has paid his premiums in the form of payroll taxes and he is fully insured. Instead of honoring its obligations under the contract the Government first tries to delay or deny the claim. This is just plain bad faith.

(socialNsecurity, Confessions of a Social Security Judge”, published 2010,, Introduction, p. 17)



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.

Read more here:

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Toxic Leadership and Scorched Earth, Colonel Annicelli’s Story


                                                                                                    ( Colonel Lance Annicelli, USAF)

This is the Story of Lieutenant Colonel Lance Annicelli, United States Air Force. It is told in the first person in his own words. No one could tell his story better. What comes across in his telling of this unbelievable nightmare is his decency, compassion, and plain speaking.

This is also a shocking story. It is frank and honest but with an under tone of anger. It cuts against the grain; it strains credulity.  It is one of many similar stories being told concerning the purge of the American military senior officer corps during the period between 2008 and 2016.

Colonel Annicelli was the embodiment of the American Dream. He was a success story. He had risen to dazzling heights. His life story was a record of achievement. His curriculum vitae was threatening to some. This Top Gun pilot was flying into a strong headwind.

Many distinguished senior officers were purged from all branches of the American military services during the  period 2008 to 2016.

The Story of Colonel Lance Annicelli is a window into an unhinged system careening toward irredeemable corruption.

(Available from in April 2017)


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The New “I Have A Dream” Speech, Why I Believe In America.

I thought that I would never hear a sweeter refrain than I Have A Dream by Dr Martin Luther King. Then I read “I Believe In America” by Dr Ben Carson.

No one else has articulated better the essence of American Culture and Christian Values than Dr Ben Carson. He makes the case for American Culture and Christian Values better than anyone I have heard to date. His Declaration of Beliefs is a modern classic.


Listen to the words.


Why I Believe In America.

In a very telling moment, Hillary Clinton maligned me and millions of other Americans as racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic and Islamophobic “deplorables.”

I’m so tired of this line of attack that normally taunts conservatives.

Well let me be very specific in my response.

Why I Believe In America.

I believe in expanding opportunity, not welfare; that’s not racist.

I believe every life is worth protecting, particularly the unborn; that doesn’t make me sexist.

I believe marriage is between one man and one woman; that’s not homophobic.

I believe in borders, the rule of law and our sovereign right to decide who to let into our country; that’s not xenophobic.

I believe radical Islam is a mortal threat to America and Western civilization; that is common sense, not Islamophobia.

My nationwide ‘Fight for the Court’ project is about explaining and protecting our Constitutional values. As you can see, they’re under constant assault, and if we allow the Left to institutionalize their vision of a European-style, government-dominated, secular society through our courts, we are going to lose our country for a generation.

If you’re tired of being vilified for believing in the Constitutional, Judeo-Christian values that made America great, please help me send a message by signing up to join me now.

We must use moments like this as opportunities because this is not just name-calling. The Left is using every tool at their disposal to whitewash our history and undercut our institutions.

The difference is that I believe in our nation as it was founded. I believe in “We the People,” but it requires us to constantly reach out, inform, and mobilize conservatives.

There are a lot of challenges before us and a lot of problems to solve. I’ve decided to concentrate on a few. ‘Fight for the Court’ is about protecting our Constitutional values.

Elections every few years are our opportunity to correct course if necessary, but the Supreme Court can be lost for a generation or more.

I ask you to join me by signing up and helping us to continue this fight.

Of the three branches of the federal government, the judiciary branch was supposed to be the weakest.

However, after decades of judicial overreach, the Court has accrued so much power that the opinions of nine unelected judges can dramatically affect the lives of every American.

This means that 2016 is not just about who will sit in the Oval Office. It’s about what kind of justices will be nominated to the Court — and the next President may have to fill two to three seats.

Whether it’s the protection of religious liberty or the 2nd Amendment, the legality of executive amnesty, or the future of school choice, we are facing two very different futures and we must ensure that every American understands the stakes.

Help us keep this issue front and center. Help us fight for the Court.Thank you for your commitment.













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The Case of Cadet Webster Smith, The Last Word




We, as Americans, cherish fairness. We like to believe that people are not punished or unjustly rewarded without justifiable cause. We like to dwell on parables of white virtue and black advancement culminating in the flowering of goodwill all around. Events sometimes force us to widen our gaze and focus on terrain we would rather not see. The 2006 court-martial of Cadet Webster Smith at the United States Coast Guard Academy did just that. The Webster Smith case was a litmus test for justice in America. Every once in a while a case comes along that puts our humanity as a people, and as Americans, on trial. Everything that we profess to stand for as Americans was on trial. Our sense of justice in America and particularly in the U.S. Military was on trial. This was no ordinary trial. Our humanity was on trial. Our system of justice was on trial. This case dissolved the deceptive façade and exposed certain moral deficiencies in our system of justice. This case alone puts the legitimacy of the entire military justice system at risk.

Webster Smith availed himself of every path to justice that we have. He filed an Article 138 Complaint under the UCMJ. He faced the Article 32 Investigation with two lawyers. He asserted all of his Constitutional Criminal Guarantees. He knew and made appropriate use of the Right to Counsel, the Right to Remain Silent, the right to a jury trial, the Right to Confront the witnesses against him, the right call witnesses on his behalf, the right to present evidence favorable to him, the presumption of innocence until his guilt was proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and the right to argue his case before the Jury.

His Appellate Counsel, Ronald Machen, was top notch. He became the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia. In April 2015, he left the position and returned to the law firm WilmerHale.  Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr®  has played a leading role in historic events and landmark cases that have shaped the nation and left their mark across the globe. In matters ranging from the Army-McCarthy hearings to the legal defense of civil rights, from the 9/11 Commission to the restoration of the rule of law in apartheid-torn South Africa, their lawyers have made contributions that have profoundly affected our society. Because the law is still a profession as well as a business, lawyers have special obligations to the administration of justice and the development of the law. Their lawyers are  encouraged to meet these obligations through pro bono work. Attorney Machen represented Webster Smith on a pro bono basis. He received no fee.

Webster Smith appealed his conviction all the way to the United States Supreme Court. He lost at the Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals. He lost at the Court Of Appeals for the Armed Forces of the United States. The U. S. Supreme Court dismissed his appeal without comment. And, on top of the aforesaid, he filed a Complaint of Discrimination, pursuant to Commandant Instruction 5350.11. He had an air tight and fool proof case of disparate treatment. Yet, he lost. He lost because the System was manned by the most incompetent people God ever created. They did not have a clue as to what was going on in their office. The most significant case in the history of the Department of Homeland Security and the Armed Forces of America came to them and they were not capable of processing it properly.

On top of everything else, Webster Smith had bad luck. At some juncture along the way, most other people would have won, but not Webster Smith. One has to wonder why. There are some who will say that it was because he was Black. They will say that the System was designed and administered by white men and women; and, no Black man can obtain justice in that System. They might have a point, even though some of the decisions made concerning his case were made by Black people in key offices.

We now see that there is little or no justice in military justice. Any reasonable person who looks at this case or any other high profile military justice case would have to conclude that the Military Justice System is not designed to render justice. It is a system designed to punish. The entire courts-martial system, from Summary Court-martial to General Court-martial, has one specific purpose; that is to punish anyone who commits an offense against the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

This is intended to be the definitive word on the first and only court-martial of a United States Coast Guard Academy cadet. The Case of Cadet Webster Smith, The Last Word is written from the perspective of the accused, Cadet First Class Webster Smith. It is not written from the perspective of his accusers. A prior account of this case focused on the women involved. Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and a Lady told the story of the court-martial from the perspective of the witnesses for the prosecution.

Why now? Well, there are several reasons. This Case is unique in that this has never happened before. No other Coast Guard Academy Cadet has ever been punished at a General Courts-martial. That is saying a lot for an institution that has been around since 1876.

Also, it has been ten years since the trial and conviction. An entire decade has passed. The sentence has been served. The Supreme Court Petition for A Writ of Certiorari has been denied. The Record is complete.

Cadet Smith was a senior when the trial began. He was within months of graduating from the Academy, but he was expelled. No Clemency was granted. His career was ruined. His life was irreparably harmed. For ten years he was required to register in the State of Texas as a Sexual offender. He married, had children, and for ten years he was not allowed to attend the birthday parties of his children.

This Case has been hotly debated in certain quarters. The Coast Guard has tried its best to forget that this court-martial ever occurred. However, I fear that this Case will be debated and talked about for years to come. Long after the political and social climates that gave rise to this Case have abated; cadets, officers, politicians and parents will be discussing the Webster Smith Case.

What distinguishes this book from other books on the Case is that this book distinguishes how the Coast Guard Legal Officers and the senior Academy officers disposed of this case as opposed to other cases with similar fact patterns. This Case will serve as a witness to an era in the United States Military and its Service Academies that was ripe with cultural and ethical upheavals, proceedings with plenty of due process and little justice, sexual assaults in the military, retaliation against whistleblowers, mind blowing results, aggravation and frustration. 

The Case of Cadet Webster Smith, The Last Word

Title ID: 6293877

ISBN-13: 978-1533400802



The Case of Cadet Webster Smith, The Last Word

Unrestricted Coast Guard Chronicles Vol 02 Nr 01

BY_AUTHOR Judge London Steverson


ISBN-13: 978-1533400802

6″ x 9″ on WHITE Paper

(198 pages, Black & White)

15.24 x 22.86 cm


Interior: The Case of Cadet Webster Smith, The Last Word – updated version edited 2- formatted15Apr11.docx


Cover Finish: Glossy

Cover: cover-creator.pdf


The Case of Cadet Webster Smith, The Last Word

Title ID: 6293877

ISBN-13: 978-1533400802

Categories: Military Justice | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Commander Merle James Smith, Junior, U S Coast Guard (Retired); This Is Your Life

Before there was Affirmative Action at the United States Coast Guard Academy, there were athletic scouts and the recruitment of star athletes.

The Chief Scout at the Coast Guard Academy was Captain Otto Graham, formerly the Head Coach of the Cleveland Browns professional football team.

Merle James Smith, Junior was recruited into the Coast Guard Academy to play football. Captain Otto Graham, the Athletic Director, said he needed a defensive tackle and a wide receiver on the varsity football team. That was on or about 1960 or 1961.

The Coast Guard Academy made a small step for America, and a giant step for African Americans. It had done the right thing for the right reason. This was not the most popular thing to do at this time.

Considering what was happening a bit further south in America. In places like Little Rock, AR. and Birmingham,AL what had been accomplished at the Coast Guard Academy with little or no fanfare was creating major social upheaval. Some Southern communities responded with police dogs and fire hoses.
Some time later it was discovered that this football player, Merle Smith, Junior may have had some African blood. And the rest is history.

 How many years must a man faithfully serve, before he is given the Honor he is due?

The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.

50 years is only half a Century; but it is never too late to tweak Posterity.

CDR Merle James Smith, Jr., an authentic American Hero, from the Old School. He achieved honor and glory the old fashioned way; he earned it!!

(CDR Merle Smith, USCG (Ret.) and Judge London Steverson, USALJ (Ret.) drink a toast to their 52 years of friendship at the Coast Guard Academy Eclipse Week Celebration honoring the 50th Anniversary of  CDR Smith’s graduation from the Academy as the  First Black Graduate.)

Congratulations Commander Merle J. Smith, Junior. Today you are the most interesting man in America.

You deserved the 13 Gun Salute and the full Regimental Parade given to you on April 10, 2016.

 This recognition is well deserved and long overdue. Honoring the first Black graduate honors all Black graduates.

The Academy was founded in 1876. The exclusion of African Americans from the Academy from 1876 until 1962 is a tragic fact of American history.

On April 10, 2016 fifty-four years after he was sworn in as a cadet at the United States Coast Guard Academy, CDR Smith was honored for being the first American of African ancestry to graduate from this historic institution.

The Academy was not aware initially that there was an African American cadet at the Academy. He had not been recruited as a “Black cadet”; nor, was he recognized as one by the Coast Guard Academy Admission’s Office.

Possibly, he was not recognized as an African American because he did not physically resemble one. None of his school records labeled him as Black, and he had not been recruited as a minority candidate.

When Black spectators from the New London community came to watch the corps of cadets march in parade, they frequently mistook Anthony Carbone and Donnie Winchester as the possible Black cadet. Carbone was an Italian, and Winchester was a Native American. They both had considerably darker complexions and more course facial features than Merle Smith.

CDR Smith’s appointment had been tendered before President Kennedy issued the directive to find and appoint Black candidates for the Coast Guard Academy.

His father, Colonel Merle Smith , Senior, was the Professor of Military Science at Morgan State College in Baltimore, Maryland; and, he had formerly been an Army Staff officer at the Pentagon.

The only two Black cadets to have been recruited under President John F. Kennedy’s Directive were London Steverson and Kenneth Boyd. They entered the Academy in 1964 and graduated in 1968.

This official portrait should be sent on a cross-country all Coast Guard Units/Facilities Tour to educate the troops and the corps on African American achievements since CAPT Mike Healey. This should be done before the portrait finds its permanent resting place at the Coast Guard Academy.

Rear Admiral and Mrs James Rendon, congratulate CDR Merle James Smith II, USCG (Ret.) on April 09, 2016 at the Annual Eclipse Awards Banquet at the United States Coast Guard Academy. RADM Rendon is the 41st Superintendent of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.
The Eclipse Banquet was to honor CDR Smith for his achievement of being the first Academy graduated of African Ancestry.

A 13 Gun Salute and a full Regimental Parade for CDR Merle James Smith, Jr. to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of his graduation from the U S Coast Guard Academy, the first American of African Ancestry to do so.

Vice Admiral Thomas R. Sargent III, USCG, a graduate of the Coast Guard Academy, Class of 1938, presents LT Merle J, Smith II, the Bronze Star, with “V” for Valor.


VADM Sargent III, was also a veteran of Vietnam service. He loved to tell stories of his experiences in Vietnam.


The other little story is I went to Vietnam and I was assigned a hotel room.  It was an annex.  I can’t remember the name of the annex but it consisted of one room with a toilet and they used to turn all the electricity off about nine o’clock at night, and then I . . . anyway, I completed my work there and called up for a car to take me to the airport.  I called, naturally, the Army motor pool and a little Vietnamese gal answered the telephone and I said, “This is Captain Sargent.  I’d like to have a car take me to the airport”, and I gave her the time and she said, “Captains no rate cars.”  Well captains in the Army didn’t rate cars but captains in the Coast Guard and the Navy did, and she hung up on me.  Well the telephone system in Vietnam was not very good and so it took me another 20 minutes before I finally got through.  Another Vietnamese girl answered the phone and I said, “Let me talk to your supervisor”, and low and behold Lomca [phonetic] answered the telephone as a Sergeant and I said, “This is Captain Sargent.  I need a car to take me to the airport”, and he said, “Listen buddy. I’m a sergeant, you’re a sergeant. I don’t rate a car and nor do you”, and he hung up on me again and I thought, “Oh, something’s got to change”, so I called up once more. I got him again and I said, “This is Colonel Savage, United States Coast Guard.  Send my car down.  I want to go to the airport.”  He said, “Yes Sir”, and so I signed for the car as T. R. Salvage, and I don’t know what happened to it but it worked, and the reason I picked out the name Savage is because when I was a cadet [at the Academy]  there was a certain Lieutenant Commander [Robert T.] McElligott who became a rear admiral who was a physics instructor.  I was sitting in class and for some reason or other Admiral McElligott couldn’t remember my name and so he asked a question and then he said, “Mr. Savage, I want you to answer it”, and I didn’t.  I didn’t even pay attention because Savage didn’t ring a bell and he yelled, “Mr. Savage”, and I suddenly realized he meant me and I said, “Yes Sir.”  He said, “Put yourself on report for inattention in class.”  “Yes Sir.”  So that’s why I remember the name Savage [chuckle].


The Academy was not aware initially that there was an African American cadet at the Academy. He had not been recruited as a “Black cadet”; nor, was he recognized as one by the Coast Guard Academy Admission’s Office.

Possibly, he was not recognized as an African American because he did not physically resemble one. None of his school records labeled him as Black, and he had not been recruited as a minority candidate.

Some time in 1962 rumors began to be circulated in the Black Community of New London, Connecticut that there was a Black cadet at the Coast Guard Academy. How did those rumors start? It was suggested at the time that Doctor Bill Waller,  the Chemistry Professor at the Academy had  started the rumors.

I can verify that Doctor Waller was indeed the source of those rumors. In 1967 Doctor Waller invited me to his home on several occasions on a Sunday afternoon. He told me himself that he had put the word out that there was a Black cadet at the Academy. He also said that several members of his church had come back and told him that they had stood outside the Academy fence and watched the entire Brigade of cadets march on Saturday mornings. But, they were not able to definitively pick out the Black cadet. They reported that they had seen several who looked like they could be Black. Doctor Waller said that he had also watched the cadets marching on Saturday mornings and  he believed that several cadets with very dark tans could have been mistaken for a Black cadet. They all had shaven heads, and some were darker than Merle Smith. He mentioned Anthony Carbone, Donnie Winchester, and Tony Alejandro.

(Doctor William Waller, Chemistry Professor at the Coast Guard Academy)

When Black spectators from the New London community came to watch the corps of cadets march in parade, they frequently mistook Anthony Carbone and Donnie Winchester as the possible Black cadet. Carbone was an Italian, and Winchester was a Native American. They both had considerably darker complexions and more course facial features than Merle Smith.

    (The Chief Scout at the Coast Guard Academy was Captain Otto Graham, pictured above)  Captain Graham was the Academy’s Athletic Director. He was formerly the Head Coach of the Cleveland Browns professional football team. While at the Academy, Captain Graham set many records. After Merle J. Smith, Jr was recruited, the Academy Football Team went undefeated in the 1963 season.                                                                                                                                                              

(Pictured above, are some of the members of the 1963 Varsity Football Team. Number 83 is Merle Smith.)

Was that a coincidence or was it in part due to the addition to the team of  Number 83, a wide receiver and defensive tackle from Maryland by the name of Merle Smith?

    (Pictured above is Ensign Merle James Smith, Junior)


On June 8, 1966, the US Coast Guard Academy in New London graduated the first African American student, Ensign Merle James Smith, Jr. Smith received a Bachelor of Science degree as part of a class of 113 cadets. The Coast Guard Academy began in 1876 on the topsail schooner Dobbin and moved to its present location in New London, Connecticut, in 1932. – See more at:

(Pictured below, Colonel Merle James Smith, Senior, presents his son, Ensign Merle James Smith II, his Graduation Certificate and his Officer’s Commission at the Graduation Ceremony in New London, CT in 1966)

(Pictured in the background is Admiral Willard J. Smith, The Academy Superintendent)

ADM Willard J. Smith served as the 13th Coast Guard Commandant from 1966-1970. He was the first aviator to hold the rank of Commandant Of The Coast Guard, the Coast Guard’s highest-ranking position.

On a warm sunny day in May 1966, Merle James Smith, Junior, became the first American of African Ancestry to graduate from the United States Coast Guard Academy, New London, Connecticut.

Upon graduation he was first assigned a the Communications Officer aboard he USCGC Minnetonka, a 255-foot medium endurance law enforcement vessel. Later he was promoted to the post of Operations Officer.

Because of his exceptional performance of duty and expert leadership abilities onboard the CGC Minnetonka, Ensign Smith was promoted to Lieutenant (junior grade), and given command of his own ship, the 82 foot Patrol Boat, the CGC Cape Wash. The Cape Wash was home ported in Monterey, California.

On or about 1970, after being promoted to the rank of Full Lieutenant, LT Smith was given orders to the War Zone in Viet Nam.

In Vietnam, LT Smith was to command two vessels, the CGC Point Mast and the CGC Point Ellis. LT Smith and vessels under his command directed more than eighty Naval Fire Support Missions. He participated in support operation mission, called Operation Market Time.

In another mission, called Operation Sea Lords, LT Smith’s vessel accounted for the destruction of ten enemy bunkers, four rocket launchers, thirteen structures, and nineteen Sampans.

Commander Smith has many awards and medals. His decorations include The Bronze Star With A “V” For Valor, the Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation Citation, the Presidential Unit Citation,, the Vietnamese Cross for Gallantry, and many other awards and decorations.

CDR Smith is the first American sea service officer  of African Ancestry to command an American Federal vessel in combat, and to receive the Bronze Star.

When he returned from combat service in Vietnam, CDR Smith was assigned to the International Affairs Division at Coast Guard Headquarters, in  the Volpe Building, at 7th and D Street, SW, Washington, DC.

He attended the National Law Center at George Washington University. In 1975 after completing Law School he was awarded his Juris Doctorate Degree. He then received a new assignment. He became the Deputy Chief of The Coast Guard Military Justice Division.

He retired from Active Duty in 1999. He lives in New London, Connecticut with his wife, Dr. Linda Blackmann Smith, and their two children; Merle Smith , the Third, and Chelsea.

In 2006 while teaching law at the Academy CDR Smith was retained as the Individual Military Counsel (IMC) for Cadet Webster Smith who became the first Coast Guard Academy cadet to be court-martial in the history of the Coast Guard Academy. CDR Smith is no relation to Cadet Webster Smith. Cadet Webster Smith was detailed a Navy Judge Advocate Ggeneral (JAG) officer as his detailed military counsel. The Individual Military Counsel is the lead counsel. He is a civilian and he is in charge of the defense team.

CDR Smith received a Pioneer Award. What does that mean? A “Pioneer” is a person who is among those who first enter or settle a region, thus opening it for occupation and development by others.

The Award could have been called the Trailblazer Award. Trailblazer is a synonym for Pioneer. The term trailblazer signifies those who strike out on a new path or break new ground, either literally or symbolically, using skills of innovation or brave constitutions to conduct their lives off the beaten path. Often known for independent thought, rugged individualism and pioneering ways, trailblazers throughout history have included cutting-edge inventors, explorers and healers. Trailblazers throughout history all have shared an innovative spirit that kept them going when told their endeavors would be fruitless or against impossible odds. All have made their mark on history and mankind by refusing to quit and pushing ahead, most often into uncharted territory. When Merle James Smith entered the Coast Guard Academy in June 1962 he was sailing into uncharted waters. He had no chart, compass or navigator; yet, he reached his destination.

In 2007 CDR Smith was inducted into the Coast Guard Academy’s Hall of Heroes. On November 08, 2014, another member of the Class of 1966 was also inducted into the Hall of Heroes. He was CDR James Ellis. On that day the Pentagon, the Defense Department and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff gave an award to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy for its support of the Vietnam War.

Standing next to CDR Ellis after the ceremony, CDR Smith said, “He’s the same guy. He hasn’t changed a bit. I have always respected him and liked him.”

“It’s particularly challenging for us to have gone to a place like Vietnam where you can’t even speak the language of the people that you are trying to save, but you go and do it anyway,” CDR Smith said.

CDR Ellis acknowledged after the ceremony that those who served in Vietnam were beginning to get recognized for their service, but “it’s 50 years later.”

CDR Smith has served as an adjunct Professor of Law at the Coast Guard Academy. He also served as the Legal Counsel for General Dynamics, Electric Boat.

In February, 1976 the Coast Guard Academy announced the appointments of female cadets to enter with the Class of 1980. Fourteen women  graduated as part of the Academy’s Class of 1980.

In 1991 a Women’s Advisory Council was established.

In 2000 the Coast Guard  promoted its first female officer to Rear Admiral. She was Captain Vivien S. Crea. She was not an Academy graduate.

In 2009 CAPT Sandra L. Stosz was promoted to Rear Admiral, becoming the first female graduate of the Coast Guard Academy to reach flag rank.

The Coast Guard was the first Military Service Academy to select a woman superintendent of the academy.  Rear Adm. Sandra L. Stosz, Coast Guard Director of Reserve and Leadership, was selected as Superintendent of the Academy. Rear Admiral Stosz graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in the Class of 1982.

In 2008 the Academy hosted a free, public Women’s Equality Day information fair on August 26 in Munro Hall at the Academy.

Each year since 1971, when President Jimmy Carter designated August 26 as Women’s Equality Day, the United States has recognized the struggle for equal rights for women.

The Coast Guard Academy celebrates the event with the theme “Strengthening Our Communities” by hosting various Coast Guard and regional community groups on campus.

“This was billed as a great opportunity for members of our Coast Guard and surrounding New London community to network and learn from the organizations that help support and strengthen Academy leadership,” said LTJG Colleen Jones, Assistant Civil Rights Officer at the Academy and the event organizer.

The various organizations in attendance were the Greater New Haven National Organization of Women, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs of Connecticut, National Naval Officers Association, Academy Women, Toastmasters, CG Educational Services, CG Child Development Center, and the League of Women Voters.

April 09, 2016 Regimental Review in honor of CDR Merle James Smith, Jr. USCGA (Ret.) and 13 Gun Salute.

Categories: American History | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Save Our Heroes, The Case Of CDR Benjamin Strickland, USCGC Vol 01, Nr 01

The Case of CDR Benjamin Strickland

A different time, but the same corruption…

Such was the case of CDR Ben Strickland, a military man who was punished for helping a victim of sexual assault. CDR Strickland was a highly decorated officer in the U.S. Coast Guard with a promising career ahead of him, however, that all came to an abrupt halt when a young Sailor/victim of sexual assault approached him for help. Despite working in an environment that encouraged commanders to cover-up allegations of sexual assault, CDR Strickland made the morally courageous decision to support the victim; he personally ensured the young woman got the help she so desperately needed.

As such, CDR Strickland soon found himself in the cross hairs of his leadership and the victim of military witch-hunt.

The assorted details of this commander’s ordeal can be found on Amazon in the book “The Case of CDR Benjamin Strickland” written by Judge L. Steverson, USALJ (Ret).

Save Our Heroes has tracked down the honorable CDR Strickland (now retired and working in the Washington DC area) who made the following statement about his ordeal:

“The book you mention is indeed about me and the retaliation myself and my family endured at the hands of senior Coast Guard officials. On 23 May 2013, I was serving as Acting Commanding Officer of USCGC MUNRO (WHEC-724) homeported in Kodiak, Alaska. When I reported an allegation of a sexual assault to my Immediate Superior in Command. The allegation included a female E-3 (victim) and a male E-3 (accused) and involved multiple incidents of inappropriate (and potentially unlawful) sexual contact occurring over a period of several months pertaining to the same individuals. Under the authority granted to me as Acting Commanding Officer under Coast Guard Regulations as well as Coast Guard sexual assault prevention and response policies, I predicated an investigation by Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS) to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding what I believed to be potential sexual assault(s). My reports of an allegation of a sexual assault (as well as my subsequent complaint of mismanagement of the investigation predicated under my authority) are considered “protected communications” under 10 USC 1034, the Military Whistleblower Protection Act. The statute prohibits retribution against an individual who files a report of waste, abuse of authority, gross mismanagement, or a sexual assault to “any person or organization in the chain of command”.

Despite the accused E-3 (male) having confessed on the second day of the investigation, CGIS investigation remained open for months without resolution. I also received multiple first-hand reports from my subordinates of potential misconduct by CGIS agents as well as second-hand ones from USCG Pacific Area staff members regarding potential abuse of authority and unlawful command influence by CGIS and senior Coast Guard officials (to include the Pacific Area Chief of Staff and CGIS Director who were having daily telephone conversations regarding my report). This gross mismanagement culminated after the ship’s change of command weeks later on 18 Jun 2013 in which my new Commanding Officer, CAPT Jeffrey W. Thomas suggested I depart the ship on leave, and the very next day had CGIS agents conduct an unlawful search of my private living quarters without written authorization by a military judge in accordance with the Manual for Courts Martial and the USCG Military Justice Manual where they seized my government computer and portable hard drive. Upon my return I expressed concerns to CAPT Thomas that CGIS agents were not properly investigating the alleged sexual assault; he dismissed my concerns and refused to discuss the matter further with me. Instead of focusing on protection of the victim and prosecution of the accused, CGIS and Coast Guard Legal representatives sought to retaliate against me. They made me an unlawful target of investigations which stemmed from my report when they searched my stateroom where I, as a witness and not having been a subject or accused in any duly authorized investigation at any time, had a reasonable expectation of privacy per the Constitution and existing case law. The extent of their targeting consisted of over 20,000 emails and instant message (IMs) communications dating back to October 2011, almost two years prior to my report of a sexual assault – IMs they sought to use as a pretext for which they could have me removed from my position.

Months later – in January 2014 – CGIS and Coast Guard Legal gave these IMs to Pacific Area senior management and the Commanding Officer for them to use as a basis for a derogatory OER from which they could have me removed from primary duties as Executive Officer (XO). Beyond my complaints of mismanagement by senior Coast Guard managers and CGIS and seeking guidance from my professional network about preparing a complaint to the DHS Office of Inspector General, these IMs had no nexus/connection to the sexual assault. Moreover, but for my report of a sexual assault CGIS, PACAREA and the Commanding Officer would never have retrieved and reviewed my IMs. These IMs were not only comprised of purely private conversations unrelated to official government business, but were previously routinely monitored by CG IT support with no issues or allegations of impropriety. Furthermore, there was no valid reason for CGIS and Pacific Area to make me the target of investigations I had requested in the first place. These IMs unlawfully reviewed without probable cause in many cases not only fell outside the reporting period for the OER, but also included protected communications with the Base Chaplains Office, Work-Life/HSWL staff, and Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC).

CGIS, PACAREA and the Commanding Officer acted against me without proper authority. The Commanding Officer admitted to me when I challenged his unlawful actions on 23 Jan 2014 that I was at no time ever the subject of any criminal or administrative investigation; no formal investigation was ever initiated against me in accordance with the Administrative Investigations Manual or the Military Justice Manual. Nevertheless, the chain of command unlawfully searched my stateroom, seized my work computer, retrieved my personal communications, and then improperly used IMs they obtained for the purposes of retaliation against me for my having reported an allegation of a sexual assault and for my later disclosure of what I (and many others at the O-6 level at the PACAREA staff) reasonably believed to be internal wrongdoing on the part of multiple Coast Guard management officials

I was removed from primary duties and sent to a junior officer billet inconsistent with my rank as a senior officer. At this time, no action whatsoever had been taken against the accused – clearly giving insight that the Coast Guard’s priorities did not lie in protection of the victim and prosecution of the accused, but rather retaliation. I filed a complaint with the DoD Inspector General who conducted a preliminary inquiry and found sufficient evidence to refer my complaint to the DHS Inspector General for investigation. Having several opportunities come my way in the maritime industry last year, I opted to retire from active duty.

It is important that Coast Guard personnel recognize the corruption and misconduct that exist at the highest levels of the organization and CGIS. Reforms are desperately needed in order to prevent the use of criminal investigations by senior leadership as a form of reprisal for those who report sexual assaults and participate as witnesses. As it stands now, CGIS and Coast Guard legal are managed more akin to a criminal syndicate, “serving” a purpose of providing political hit jobs for the top brass, than existing as entities interested in the pursuit of military justice.

Ben Strickland, CDR, USCG (Retired)”

Categories: Coast Guard Cases | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Solo, So Long, Salute

South Pole Explorer Dies in Record Attempt

Former Army officer Henry Worsley, 55, from Fulham, London, who was on the brink of making Antarctic history with a solo, unsupported crossing died on Sunday; Photograph by Henry Worsley

The British ex-army officer was evacuated 30 miles short of his goal.
Henry Worsley, a 55-year-old British ex-army officer and veteran polar explorer, has died in his attempt to become the first person in history to cross the Antarctic continent solo, unsupported, and unaided. Worsley was attempting to complete the route proposed by Ernest Shackleton during the ill-fated Endurance expedition, which celebrates its centennial this year. He had been on the ice alone for 71 days, covering 913 miles, and was suffering from exhaustion, dehydration, and severe stomach pains when he called for a rescue only 30 miles from his destination on the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf.

Just before departing on the journey in November, Worsley spoke to National Geographic about the challenges he would face. “I know I’m going to suffer for the first few weeks, and I know I’m going to have bad days,” he said. “But I’m generally a cup-half-full man, so I’ll grit my teeth and get on with it.”

Henry Worsley had embarked on several Antarctic expeditions; Photograph by Henry Worsley

On Friday, in his last dispatch from Antarctica, Worsley declared: “…a gradual grinding down of my physical endurance finally took its toll today, and it is with sadness that I report it is journey’s end—so close to my goal.” Shortly after he called to be evacuated, he was airlifted by staff at Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions to their base on the Union Glacier and then on to Clinica Magallanes in Punta Arenas, Chile, where he died from organ failure on Sunday. It is reported that Worsley had been suffering from peritonitis, an infection of the tissue lining the abdomen.Worsley’s expedition had raised more than $142,000 for a charity called the Endeavor Fund, which supports the recovery of wounded, injured, and sick British servicemen and women. Prince William, a patron of the Endeavor Fund, wrote in a recently released statement: “We have lost a friend, but he will remain a source of inspiration to us all.”

Doug Stoup, a prolific American polar explorer who has been on 38 expeditions to Antarctica, including 15 trips to the South Pole, had been closely following Worsley’s journey when he heard the tragic news. “He was one of the last great explorers of our generation and a truly humble human being,” Stoup said by telephone from Charlottesville, Virginia. “You might think it’s more dangerous to undertake a journey like this alone, but for a guy like Henry it’s actually safer to go solo. He was a professional and was so experienced that he would have ended up guiding anyone he would taken along. ”

“Rarely do we set the high bar one notch above what we think we can clear, and that’s what’s driving me on here.” —Henry Worsley

When asked why he wanted to undertake such a dangerous trip alone, Worsley replied, “On my previous trips I was always part of a team, and so this time I wanted to have the clarity of making all my own decisions. I’ve always sort of lived by the phrase, “Try something you could fail at. We all do things that we can comfortably achieve, but rarely do we set the high bar one notch above what we think we can clear, and that’s what’s driving me on here.”


This was crazy. It was totally insane. I would never have done this. I can think of a lot of better ways to die. I would never do anything like this in a million years, but “to each his own”.

I spent two years at Antarctica, and it is not a place I would want to die. I would prefer to be at home in my own bed with my family in my sleep.

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