By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Lawyers for fired Broward Health chief executive Pauline Grant filed a pair of public records requests on the district in May that they believed might shed light on her sudden dismissal last December.
Six months later, Broward Health hasn’t produced a single requested document in response.
Florida’s Public Records Act provides that records made or received by any public agency in the course of its official business “are open for personal inspection and copying by any person,” unless specifically exempted by the Legislature.
The North Broward Hospital District – Broward Health’s legal name – hasn’t asserted any exemptions. Instead, the independent taxing district is waging an unusual legal fight that continues to delay the release of those records while sticking taxpayers with the mounting bill.
That legal tab is sure to climb even higher. Besides the two outside law firms Broward Health has hired in the public records case – the Miami firms of Foley & Lardner and Zumpano Castro – the district has retained a string of additional high-profile lawyers, including more from Foley, to represent individual defendants in related civil litigation brought by Grant. Here are some of those lawyers and their Broward Health clients:
- Scott Richardson of West Palm Beach for Interim CEO (and former board member) Beverly Capasso. Richardson’s clients have included Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.
- Roberto Martinez and Stephanie Casey of the Coral Gables law firm Colson Hicks Eidson for General Counsel Lynn Barrett. Martinez is a well-known Republican and former U.S. Attorney.
- Bruce Lyons of Fort Lauderdale for board Chairman Rocky Rodriguez. Lyons is a past president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
- Andrew Levi of Miami’s Lehr, Levi & Mendez for board member Christopher Ure.
- Eric Adams and Mark Rankin of the Tampa office of Shutts & Bowen for Commissioner Linda Robison. Like Adams and Rankin, Robison is a partner at Shutts & Bowen.
It is the Public Records Act lawsuit, however, that is moving the most swiftly and could yield insight into one of Broward Health’s most controversial arenas, its legal department. General Counsel Barrett is scheduled for deposition in the case on Nov. 15.
Broward Health’s board voted 4-1 to fire Grant last Dec. 1 at a hastily arranged meeting where Barrett disclosed she had hired “independent” lawyers to investigate the allegations of illegality.
Barrett told the board that lawyers from Nashville, TN.-based Waller Lansden, Dortch & Davis had concluded that Grant committed “a probable violation of the federal Anti-Kickback Statute,” which would be a crime.
An ‘independent’ warning
No details about the investigation were provided that day, but another “independent” attorney, Jack Selden of Birmingham, AL.-based Bradley Arant Boult Cummings, warned of potential civil and criminal fallout and advised the district to take “appropriate actions.”
A lawyer’s report detailing the case against Grant was later forwarded to federal monitors overseeing Broward Health’s compliance with a Corporate Integrity Agreement. The agreement was signed two years ago as part of its $69.5-million settlement of whistleblower allegations that the district paid kickbacks to nine doctors who referred patients to its hospitals in a decade-long scheme.
But as Florida Bulldog reported at the end of October, the two law firms were not independent. Both Waller Lansden and the Bradley firm had deep, undisclosed ties to Gov. Rick Scott, who oversees Broward Health and appoints its board of commissioners.
Within weeks of her dismissal, Grant sued the board, asking a judge to void her termination, reinstate her and declare that the board had violated the Sunshine Law. The case is pending.
On May 12, Grant sued again – this time for breach of contract. The case is also pending.
The same day, two of Grant’s Fort Lauderdale attorneys, Eugene Pettis and Mitchell Berger, filed separate public records requests seeking a variety of information including email, telephone and text messages between Barrett, board members and administrators; contracts; schedules, and communications with “anyone” at the Waller Landsen and Bradley firms.
Grant, Pettis and Berger, represented by Berger’s law firm Berger Singerman, sued Broward Health to enforce the Public Records Act on Aug. 2. The 16-page suit asked Judge Michael A. Robinson to order the district to produce the records.
“Notwithstanding the Waller Firm’s conclusion that Grant engaged in probably violations of the Anti-Kickback Statute…The Grant report made no mention of records highly relevant to any legitimate investigation arriving at such a conclusion,” the lawsuit says.
Broward Health not to blame
In an answer a month later, private attorneys hired by Broward Health blamed Grant and her attorneys for any delay in obtaining the records. In fact, they said, the district was prevented from complying because the plaintiffs failed to provide additional requested “information and/or clarification” needed to determine what exemptions were applicable and how much those records should cost.
“Defendant has not refused to provide access to plaintiffs of requested public records,” says the Sept. 5 filing by Zumpano
Castro attorney Robert H. Fernandez. “Defendant has only sought to comply with its obligations under the Public Records Act and has been thwarted in that effort by plaintiffs’ actions and/or inactions.”
Fernandez’s co-counsel is William E. Davis of Foley & Lardner, a firm with strong ties to Gov. Scott.
In an unusual move, Foley lawyers are now seeking to disqualify Berger Singerman – a firm with strong Democratic Party ties – and partner Paul Figg from representing Grant and her lawyers in the public records lawsuit. In a 288-page filing, they argue that because Berger Singerman has represented Broward Health in the past, the firm shouldn’t be allowed to “switch sides” and now represent Grant against the district.
“This is a clear violation of the rules regulating the Florida Bar regarding conflicts of interest and constitutes a violation of Berger Singerman’s duties of loyalty and confidentiality,” says the motion filed by Foley lawyers William E. Davis and Brandon Williams.
At an Oct. 31 hearing, Berger suggested the move to disqualify his firm was a red herring to delay the production of records about Grant’s firing.
“They hired Bradley Arant and the Waller law firm to accuse her of a crime so they could fire her. All right. That’s what this is all about,” said Berger, who is defending Grant against a potential criminal charge. “And guess who has all the records that they supposedly gave the federal government, which I can’t see, to defend her?”
Like Lynn Barrett, Mitchell Berger is to be deposed on Nov. 15.
Meanwhile, Judge Robinson has set a two-hour evidentiary hearing on the motion to disqualify for Nov. 20 at 1:45 p.m.