By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Broward Health expects to pay outside law firms nearly $1 million more this year than in 2017, with its annual legal expenses now budgeted at more than $6.1 million.
Those expenses don’t include any additional legal costs to indemnify at taxpayer expense five current and former Broward Health officials under indictment since December for violating Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Law.
The defendants: CEO/President Beverly Capasso, General Counsel Lynn Barrett, Commissioner Christopher Ure and former commissioners Rocky Rodriguez and Linda Robison. Their trial is expected to start in August.
Under the district’s bylaws, defendant/General Counsel Barrett directs and controls the hiring of attorneys. She approves fee agreements and signs off on invoices. Barrett, 53, did not respond to an emailed request for comment. Broward Health collected about $137 million in property-tax revenue in 2017.
The district disclosed the information about its general legal costs last month in response to a public-records request by Florida Bulldog. The disclosure, made in lieu of providing copies of requested invoices and other records that Broward Health’s law firm said would cost thousands of dollars, occurred shortly before those lawyers declared that the safety-net hospital system for the northern two-thirds of Broward would no longer answer questions about its operations.
A request for information about Broward Health’s in-house attorneys led the district to identify seven in-house attorneys with base annual salaries ranging from $91,500 to Barrett’s $340,000. Barrett’s four top lieutenants, with titles of senior associate general counsel, draw base salaries of $239,000, $222,000, $175,000 and $165,000.
The salaries of those attorneys, who also stand to collect a bonus of 17.5 percent of their salary this year if a recently proposed management incentive plan is implemented, total about $1.3 million, according to Broward Health’s information. But the 2018 budget for the general counsel’s office is $2,156,966, or more than 60 percent higher, indicating that salary hikes for in-house are in the works.
Payments to outside lawyers also went up. A request for the district’s Attorney Vendor List revealed that last year payments were made to 31 law firms totaling slightly more than $3 million. Most striking was the $1.94 million paid to Foley & Lardner, a law firm with close ties to Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who appoints the district’s commissioners.
Big money to Foley & Lardner
Last November, the Broward Health blog, operated by local activist Dan Lewis, obtained vendor payment histories from the district showing that from March 1, 2015 to Nov. 10, 2017 Broward Health paid Foley & Lardner $5.5 million.
Foley & Lardner’s Republican-heavy roster includes Scott’s former environmental protection secretaries Herschel Vinyard and Jon Steverson as well as Christopher Kise, general counsel to Scott’s transition team and later appointed by Scott to the board of Enterprise Florida. Also, Scott’s former Information Technology coordinator and chief information officer for Florida Jason Allison joined the law firm last year as director of public affairs.
Jesse Panuccio, Scott’s former general counsel and chief of the Department of Economic Opportunity, left Foley & Lardner after a year to become the third highest-ranking official in President Donald Trump’s Department of Justice. Karen Bowling, Scott’s partner in the multi-million dollar Solantic urgent-care clinic chain, was Foley & Lardner’s director of public affairs until September 2016.
Foley & Lardner, ranked by Law360 this month as the 32nd largest U.S. law firm, has been generous to the Republican Party of Florida, giving it more than $195,000 during the last two gubernatorial campaigns won by Scott.
The other highest-paid firms: Bradley Arant ($328,000) and Waller Lansden ($149,000), both retained by Barrett to investigate and oust former Broward Health President/CEO Pauline Grant, and Akerman LLP ($155,000).
Former Broward Health Commissioner Joe Cobo believes the district’s calculation of the fees paid to Foley & Lardner is low.
“That’s a lowball number,” Cobo said. “It should be over $2 million. I saw one of the reports on fees at a board meeting a while ago. I think they are playing with the numbers.”
The district’s 2018 budget includes expenses for outside legal expenses and consulting totaling just under $4 million. Again, that does not include the costs of providing lawyers for the five indicted current and former Broward Health officials.