Board files charges against ex-judge
HUNTINGTON -- West Virginia's Lawyer Disciplinary Board has filed formal charges against retired Social Security judge David B. Daugherty, allegations that could potentially strip the nearly 80-year-old of his law license.
The charges stem from a three-year investigation into whether Daugherty conspired with disability benefits attorney Eric C. Conn in a scheme that officials say improperly awarded Social Security disability benefits to hundreds of applicants.
The Disciplinary Board's statement of charges, filed April 7, allege Daugherty approved claims that did not meet government guidelines, falsified time sheets, improperly assigned Conn cases to himself and provided the Stanville, Ky., attorney with a monthly list indicating medical evidence that would be needed to reach a favorable decision in specific cases.
The board's investigative panel further charged that Daugherty failed to review the decisions of fellow judges involving the same claimants and knowingly made false statements in the disciplinary board's investigation. Each allegation violated the state's Rules of Professional Conduct.
Daugherty has until May 12 to file a written response, although Wednesday he seemed uncertain as to the path he would take. He noted his "inactive 70+" status with the West Virginia State Bar.
"I haven't practiced law in 25 or some years," he told The Herald-Dispatch. "I really don't have any particular use for my (law) license."
The allegations date back to a Wall Street Journal report in May 2011 that exposed potential waste at Huntington's Social Security office, located along 9th Street Plaza. It led to a two-year investigation by members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. That committee produced a report alleging Conn and Daugherty engaged in a scheme that "enabled the judge to approve, in assembly-line fashion, hundreds of clients for disability benefits using manufactured medical evidence."
Daugherty's unusually high productivity and approval rate awarded more than $2.5 billion in lifetime benefits to Conn's clients and others during the judge's final years on the bench, the Senate report alleged.
Sarah Carver and Jennifer L. Griffith, two whistleblowers credited with exposing the potential waste, were pleased with the state Disciplinary Board's findings, but it doesn't quench their thirst for accountability and criminal prosecution. Both could testify at future hearings before the Disciplinary Board. Its recommendation as to possible sanctions must be approved by the state Supreme Court, a process that could take as long as a year.
"It's the proper thing to do," Carver said. "I do believe that will set an example, however I'm disappointed this is so far the only agency that's taken action that we know of."
The whistleblowers urge Kentucky bar officials to follow course and pursue similar sanctions against Conn, just as they hope Indiana officials will against Charles Paul Andrus, who was chief administrative law judge at the Huntington office during the period the alleged scheme occurred.
Daugherty on Wednesday declined comment in regards to his actions as judge, but defended himself against allegations he was dishonest with Disciplinary Board investigators. That allegation stemmed from Daugherty's assertion that he answered a congressional subpoena that requested his attendance at an Oct. 7, 2013, Senate committee hearing.
Daugherty admits he did not appear as requested, but insists he answered the subpoena with an Oct. 4 email. It notified a Senate staff attorney of Daugherty's planned absence and his unwilingness to answer the committee's questions.
The former judge cited his impression that the Senate committee already had reached its conclusion among reasons for his absence. Daugherty said its report was released prior to the hearing, leading him to question the necessity for such a proceeding.
Griffith, in acknowledging Daugherty's age and his comments Wednesday, questioned the impact of taking his law license.
"I don't know that it means anything," she said. "Quite frankly, I don't think he's taking very much of it seriously at all."
Carver, currently a senior case technician at the Huntington office, and Griffith, a former master docket clerk, stand to receive a percentage of any funds recovered should they succeed on the government's behalf with a federal lawsuit against Conn, Daugherty and others in eastern Kentucky.
Follow reporter Curtis Johnson at Facebook.com/curtisjohnsonHD and via Twitter @curtisjohnsonHD.
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