By Dan Christensen and Buddy Nevins, FloridaBulldog.org
Republican-controlled Broward Health paid two law firms with strong ties to Republican Gov. Rick Scott more than $3 million in legal fees in the last 12 months.
The law firms are Foley & Lardner, which billed $1.72 million, and Greenberg Traurig, whose invoices totaled $1.65 million, according to data compiled by Broward Health.
Foley & Lardner’s Republican-heavy roster includes Herschel Vinyard, the governor’s former environmental protection secretary; Christopher Kise, general counsel to Scott’s transition team who was later appointed by Scott to the board of Enterprise Florida, and Karen Bowling, Scott’s partner in the multi-million dollar Solantic urgent-care clinic chain.
Foley & Lardner has been generous to the Republican Party of Florida, giving it more than $195,000 during the last two gubernatorial campaigns won by Scott.
Greenberg Traurig was similarly helpful to the state GOP. Since 2010, it donated more than $192,000 to the Republican Party of Florida.
Greenberg Traurig’s principal connections to Gov. Scott are Fred Karlinsky and Hayden Dempsey.
Karlinsky is a Fort Lauderdale lawyer, insurance lobbyist and Republican finance official who co-chairs Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera’s bid to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. Dempsey is a former special counsel to both Gov. Scott and his campaign. Dempsey leads Greenberg’s Florida government practice.
Karlinsky is responsible for all three contracts Greenberg Traurig obtained from Broward Health last year – one for legal services and two more to supply federal and state lobbying.
The district’s legal costs, with hourly rates as high as $695, were the focus of criticism at a meeting of Broward Health’s board in late February when it was disclosed that the work of the two law firms was in addition to Broward Health’s in-house staff of six lawyers.
“The chair [David Di Pietro] expressed concern that the legal bills are completely out of control,” say minutes of the meeting. “He feels this is runaway lawyering with no governance from the board.”
Less than a month later, Gov. Scott suspended Di Pietro and board colleague Darryl Wright for alleged malfeasance after his chief inspector general, Melinda Miguel, expressed concern that Broward Health board members might be interfering with her ongoing review of contracts and other matters at the district.
Di Pietro is suing to be reinstated, contending the governor overstepped his authority. A hearing was held Friday; a ruling is expected this week.
El Sanadi signed contracts
The contracts of both Foley & Lardner and Greenberg Traurig were signed last year by then-Broward Health Chief Executive Dr. Nabil El Sanadi, who killed himself in January. El Sanadi was a long-time contributor to the Republican Party of Florida who gave the party more than $90,000 during Scott’s two gubernatorial campaigns, state records show.
Broward Health’s governing board, whose members were appointed by Gov. Scott, hired El Sanadi as CEO in December 2014.
Within months, El Sanadi hired Foley & Lardner and Greenberg Traurig. District sources say El Sanadi acted at the direction of Fort Lauderdale lobbyist and Scott confidant William “Billy” Rubin.
Rubin did not respond to requests for comment. His company, The Rubin Group, posts on its website a client list that includes a trio of companies that do business with Broward Health, including 21st Century Oncology.
In February, FloridaBulldog.org reported that Gov. Scott owned an indirect financial interest in Fort Myers-based 21st Century Oncology in 2012 when it was awarded an extraordinary no-bid, 25-year contract to supply radiation oncology services to Broward Health. The governor’s ownership interest was through his $210,000 investment in Vestar Capital Partners, the private equity firm that owns 21st Century.
State records show 21st Century later contributed nearly $400,000 to Scott’s re-election campaign and another $275,000 to the Republican Party of Florida.
Invoices sent to Broward Health by Foley & Lardner and Greenberg Traurig were reviewed and approved by El Sanadi and Broward Health General Counsel Lynn Barrett, whose duties include employing and directing outside counsel.
In her contract with the hospital district, Barrett agreed not to “engage nor retain her prior employers to provide any legal representation on behalf of the district and not to refer any district legal services to her prior employers.”
Barrett listed three of her recent prior employers in the contract, including the Jones Walker law firm.
Legal work referred to general counsel’s ex-boss
As general counsel, Barrett has referred no legal work to Jones Walker. She has, however, referred hundreds of thousands of dollars of work to her former boss at Jones Walker, Myla Reizen.
Reizen led Jones Walker’s healthcare practice when Barrett joined that firm in January 2010. Reizen was quoted in a press release then as calling Barrett an “outstanding addition…to our healthcare practice.”
Reizen jumped to Foley & Lardner in December 2013.
In March 2015, El Sanadi hired Foley & Lardner to represent Broward Health with regulatory and compliance issues “as requested” at rates as high as $695 an hour. The contract gave Reizen “primary responsibility” for that representation.
About the same time, El Sanadi was looking to hire an in-house lawyer to replace Broward Health’s then-outside General Counsel Sam Goren. Sources said Reizen recommended Barrett for the job. Barrett, following approval by the board, took over in July 2015.
Between June 2015 and January 2016, Foley & Lardner billed $1.51 million, records show.
Barrett did not respond to a detailed request for comment.
Reizen also did not respond to a request to discuss Foley & Lardner’s connections to Gov. Scott and how Broward Health came to hire her and her firm.
Karlinsky, of Greenberg Traurig, referred a similar request for comment to a law firm spokeswoman, who released this statement: “We believe we provide high quality and responsive legal services nationally and internationally; we believe that is why we have been retained here, as well as by many other clients in the healthcare field throughout the U.S. and internationally.”
Ties run deep
Karlinsky’s ties to the governor run deep. In addition to serving as statewide finance co-chair for Scott’s re-election campaign last year, he accompanied the governor on two foreign trade missions – to London in 2012 and Israel in 2011. Also on the governor’s Israel trade mission: Billy Rubin.
The two Broward Health lobbying contracts Karlinsky secured for Greenberg are for terms of 19 months. The total value of the federal contract is $150,000. The state lobbying contract is worth another $50,000.
Information compiled by Broward Health staff and disclosed at a February board meeting says that Greenberg Traurig was tasked with reviewing approximately 1,700 contracts. The firm also assisted in drafting and negotiating contracts for doctors, including Dr. Zachariah P. Zachariah, who recently switched his hospital affiliation from Holy Cross to Broward Health Imperial Point.
Zachariah is an important Republican fundraiser whose son, Zachariah P. “Reggie” Zachariah Jr., is an associate in Greenberg Traurig’s Fort Lauderdale office. In 2012, Gov. Scott appointed Reggie Zachariah to a four-year term on Broward’s Judicial Nominating Commission that expires in July.
Broward Health’s contract with Greenberg Traurig says that when conflicts of interest arise, the law firm will either obtain a written conflict waiver or, if the conflict can’t be waived, will recommend other counsel. It is not known whether Greenberg Traurig sought such a waiver from Broward Health regarding Zachariah.
Curiously, Foley & Lardner’s contract with Broward Health includes an “advance waiver of conflict” in which the hospital district agreed up front to allow the firm to represent “current or new clients in work directly adverse” to Broward Health. That includes “clients in contract negotiations adverse to the company.”