Dueling hospital boards mull options

Foundation drops one lawsuit; will focus on getting law overturned
By Mike Wright
Monday, February 20, 2012 at 9:39 pm
Dr. Frank Vascimini, Sound Bites, 02/28/12
INVERNESS — A lawsuit that alleged Sunshine Law violations against Citrus County Hospital Board trustees was dropped Friday as attorneys for opposing Citrus Memorial hospital factions negotiate the conclusion to other legal actions.
Attorneys for the Citrus Memorial Health Foundation late Friday withdrew the lawsuit against CCHB trustees Dr. Upender Rao, Debbie Ressler and Michael Smallridge.

The lawsuit, filed in April 2011, alleged the three trustees met illegally following a foundation meeting.
CCHB attorney Bill Grant said depositions showed no violation had taken place. He sent an email to foundation attorneys on Friday demanding the case be dropped or he would seek payment of attorney’s fees in the case.
“If this matter proceeds folks will be held accountable for this frivolous action,” Grant wrote.
Foundation attorney Jim Kennedy said the decision’s timing had no connection to Grant’s threats of sanctions.
“Not one bit,” he said.

Foundation attorneys filed a dismissal without receiving permission first from the foundation board of directors.
Kennedy acknowledged that was unusual, but said it was necessary to stop both sides from expending more money on out-of-state depositions in a case that is dwarfed by the constitutional lawsuit now on appeal.

“I think we were really trying to evaluate where our most likely chances of success are and to concentrate there,” he said.
The case had been set for trial in late April. However, Circuit Court Judge William T. Swigert removed himself from the case just last Wednesday, and a new trial date was likely.

The CCHB in January suggested both sides takes steps to drop four lawsuits pending, leaving in place a lawsuit from the foundation that seeks $11 million in CCHB payments since 2009, and the foundation’s lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a law that places the CCHB in control of the hospital.
CMH attorney Clark Stillwell said both sides are continuing discussions this week.

“The focus is to get rid of the peripheral litigation that is not productive for any side and keep remaining what is truly important,” he said.

Both sides have combined to spend about $5.4 million in legal fees on lawsuits and supporting or opposing the governance law, which took effect in 2011. Most of the legal fees, about $3.7 million, were spent by the foundation, according figures provided by the hospital.

Grant said the Sunshine lawsuit alone has cost about $250,000 in legal fees total.
He blamed the foundation for filing allegations that had no substance.
“We spent a quarter million dollars on absolutely nothing,” he said. “I don’t enjoy doing legal work that goes nowhere.”
Chronicle reporter Mike Wright can be reached at 352-563-3228 or mwright@chronicleonline.com.

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