Eric Conn, “Mr. Social Security” in his advertisements as a disability payments attorney in Kentucky, doesn’t bill himself as a quiet man.
“I’m not normally a shy person, but I think it’s probably best I speak in the legal realm rather than here,” Conn of The Conn Law Firm told the CBS News program 60 Minutes, which aired a segment October 6 about fraud allegations in the disability payments arena.
The next day, Conn, represented by Chadbourne & Parke partner Abbe Lowell, didn’t have much to say on Capitol Hill, either. Conn, subpoenaed to testify at the Senate Homeland Security and Govern­mental Affairs Committee, invoked the Fifth Amendment. Lowell was seated behind his client, on his right, at the hearing.
A 161-page committee report, released last week and featured in the 60 Minutes segment, accused Conn of scheming with a former administrative law judge to get noneligible clients approved for disability benefits. Federal and state prosecutors have pending Social Security disability payment fraud investigations.
Lowell, in a letter to the Senate committee, questioned why Conn was forced to appear on Capitol Hill in the first place. “One could certainly question the purpose of the hearing as not one to get facts or information for a report that is completed, circulated and already made its conclusions of Mr. Conn’s wrongdoing,” Lowell wrote. “It has at least the potential of being for no purpose other than ‘to pillory’ the witness.” — Alex Zank
NO PRIVACY IN CELL TOWER RECORDS, DOJ SAYS
Prosecutors are trying to convince an appeals court in Richmond, Va., not to make it any harder for the government to get information from telecommunications companies about the location of mobile phone users. In a case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, prosecutors — including Benjamin Block, an assistant U.S. attorney in Maryland, and Nathan Judish of the computer crime and intellectual property section at Main Justice — said subscribers have no privacy expectation in the historical records companies keep about the cell towers that connected a phone call. “If courts were to reverse these rules and declare large categories of business records off-limits without a warrant based on probable cause, the search for truth through the judicial process would be substantially impaired,” prosecutors said in a brief filed October 8. American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Nathan Wessler said “this information is inherently private, and the government violated the Fourth Amendment when it obtained it without a warrant.” — Mike Scarcella
Add Miller & Chevalier to the list of Washington law firms that plan to take office space in new developments.
Last week the firm signed a 15-year lease for an 84,000-square-foot space in a new development planned for 900 16th St. N.W. Miller & Chevalier, which has about 90 attorneys, will occupy the top six stories of the nine-story building on the site that now houses the Third Church of Christ, Scientist. The firm expects to move into its new digs in December 2015, around the same time its current lease expires.
Adam Feinberg, a member of Miller & Chevalier’s executive committee, said the new offices will be more efficient — allowing the firm to occupy less space. “The [new] building’s floor plates have more windows and are better suited to a law firm working in an efficient way,” Feinberg said. Covington & Burling; Arnold & Porter; and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman are also moving into new buildings over the next two years. — Matthew Huisman
Two veteran media attorneys from Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz are taking on the U.S. Department of Defense for withholding information about the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, detention center. Chad Bowman, a partner in the firm’s Washington office, and David Schulz, a partner in the New York office, filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit October 9 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of Carol Rosenberg, an award-winning military affairs journalist for the Miami Herald.
Rosenberg has long reported on the detention of prisoners at the naval base in Guantánamo. She is seeking the release of agency records about the cost to taxpayers of building the “Camp 7″ detention facility in 2006 to house “high value” detainees. Rosenberg first sought the information in 2009 after the ­existence of Camp 7 was publicly acknowledged by the Defense Department, the lawsuit states. The Defense Department also recently disclosed that the facility is structurally unsound and estimates it will cost $49 million to replace.
“For more than four years, DOD has failed to conduct a reasonable search for the requested documents, to disclose the requested documents, or to provide an adequate legal basis for withholding them,” the complaint says. The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell. — Todd Ruger
BACK TO WORK
At the start of the government shutdown, the District of Columbia’s federally funded court system furloughed one-third of its employees. A few workers got good news several days later, though, when they were called back to handle tasks the court now lacked the staff to do — opening the supply room, for instance, or sealing case records. The court had stopped issuing documents needed to carry out evictions, but Anne Wicks, the court’s executive officer, said they were bringing back employees to do that as well.
The local courts scaled back a variety of functions to cope with the shutdown, including cancelling courthouse marriages and postponing a judicial swearing-in. The court was almost forced to put off the swearing-in ceremony for new members of the D.C. Bar on October 7, but bar staff stepped in to assist. Without an appropriation from Congress, the court suspended payments to court-appointed lawyers, jurors, witnesses and experts. “We will be paying all those persons once the shutdown is over,” Wicks said. “We’re tracking everything.” — Zoe Tillman
NO LOBBYING BLACKOUT
With a weekslong summer blackout of CBS behind Time Warner Cable Inc., the company has enlisted Dentons lobbyists in Washington to help with retransmission consent issues. Dentons senior managing directors Todd Bertoson and Valerie Nelson, as well as principal Megan Delany, are handling the account, according to lobbying registration paperwork filed with Congress last week. Bertoson and Delany count media regulation among their specialties. In addition to retransmission lobbying, the lobbyists’ work for Time Warner Cable includes advocacy on broadband deployment and privacy matters. The company this year has lobbied on the Do-Not-Track Online Act and broadband loans, congressional records show. Time Warner Cable spent $3.8 million on federal lobbying during the first half of 2013. For its advocacy efforts, the company used its own staffers, as well as lobbyists from firms that included Capitol Tax Partners; Fierce, Isakowitz & Blalock; and The Raben Group. — Andrew Ramonas
‘LABOR OF LOVE’
When District of Columbia Court of Appeals Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby first joined the National Association of Women Judges in 1995, she did it with her mother, Laura Blackburne, who was a judge in New York. Nearly 20 years later, Blackburne-Rigsby is taking on the association’s top job. Blackburne-Rigsby will be sworn in as president on October 12. As president, Blackburne-Rigsby said she plans to focus on access-to-justice issues.
The association pays special attention to vulnerable populations in the courts. Ensuring access to justice is especially important during tough economic times, she said, noting the many litigants who come to court without a lawyer. In a number of cases where litigants often don’t have a lawyer, from landlord and tenant to domestic violence, “the impact on women and children and families is felt more strongly,” she said.
Other items on her agenda include supporting mentoring programs and looking at issues affecting women in prison. It will be more work, she said, but “it’s a labor of love.” — Zoe Tillman
New rules by the U.S. Department of Education leave student data vulnerable, privacy advocates said in an October 9 letter urging Congress to provide better safeguards in this area of sensitive information. The Department of Education in 2011 moved to modify the definition of key terms in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. The result, according to the Electronic Privacy Information Center, is that “data is now flowing to private companies that operate far outside the direct control of school systems.” The new rules also defined who was an “authorized representative” entitled to receive student records.
EPIC asked Congress to investigate who has access to student data, whether it’s being used for commercial purposes, what security standards are in place and whether the data could be used in the future for employment, credit or insurance determinations. — Jenna Greene