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Possible Kentucky legal aid funding cuts could affect former Eric Conn clients

File photo shows Eric Conn being led by U.S. marshals and the FBI at Bluegrass Airport in Lexington in December 2017 after being located in Honduras. (WCHS/WVAH)

Possible legal aid funding cuts in Kentucky could be felt hardest among the former clients of Eric Conn, the Eastern Kentucky lawyer who pleaded guilty to a scheme to cheat the Social Security Administration out of millions of dollars.

Legal aid is how those victims are matched up with an attorney to represent them in upcoming hearings to get their Social Security benefits.

Appal Red is one of four legal aid programs in Kentucky. The program could be on the chopping block as the governor considers the state budget. It comes at a time when Appal Red lawyers are handling cases for former Eric Conn clients.

"If we were to have to reduce staff based on the funding cuts, that would be less attorneys available to assist on the Eric Conn cases," said Robert Johns, executive director of Appal Red Legal Aid.

Johns said the office also is being used to get private attorneys to take some of those cases.

"If our funding was affected, it would make it more difficult for us to administer that," Johns said.

To date, 117 former Eric Conn clients have been paired up with a legal aid attorney, but with nearly 2,000 more Social Security redetermination benefit hearings coming in the next few months, the move now is to find more attorneys to represent those victims.

Attorney Ned Pillersdorf, who has represented some former Eric Conn clients trying to get their Social Security benefits back, said the hearings are complex proceedings and people need lawyers to help them in the process.

"Problem is when Social Security Administration puts you through a redetermination hearing lawyers can't get paid," Pillersdorf said.

Pillersdorf said the hearings involve medical records dating back 10 years.

"People who tend to be represented by council have a much better chance of keeping their benefits," he said.

Later this month, Johns is heading to Atlanta to try and recruit Social Security lawyers at a national convention.

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