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Before Being Fired, Broward Health Attorneys Slashed Payments to Powerful Law Firm

Before Marc Goldstone was fired as general counsel of the North Broward Hospital District in mid-May, he had expressed concern that his job would be threatened if he followed through on the district's request to reduce its billings to outside law firms -- in particular, the firm of Gray-Robinson.

The firm, which has an office in Fort Lauderdale among its 10 in Florida, has political connections with the Florida Republican Party. Records provided to Juice through a public records request show that it billed the district for nearly $2 million over the past four years. The firm also employs a close friend of Commissioner Robert Bernstein, Jason Unger, who is a registered lobbyist for the district.

The disclosure of Goldstone's anxiety comes from a source with knowledge of Goldstone's work at the district, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Bernstein is the commissioner who during the turbulent week that began May 11 sounded the alarm about Goldstone allegedly misleading the board as to his admission to the Florida Bar. By that week's end, Goldstone and his associate general counsel Joe Truhe had both been fired.

This week, Bernstein told me he could not say what exactly caused him to suddenly become privy to a legal point so fine that it apparently escaped the attention of the district's former chief operating officer (and current 4th District Court of Appeals judge) Spencer Levine, as well as district HR chief Dionne Wong, a member of the Florida Bar, both of whom participated in Goldstone's vetting. Bernstein himself is not an attorney.

In declining comment on that question, Bernstein cited the pending criminal investigation of Commissioner Joseph Cobo, which has been broadened to include Goldstone and Truhe. But months ago -- before the investigation became known -- Bernstein had also refused to say how he learned of Goldstone's bar issues.

The connection between Bernstein and the law firm of Gray-Robinson, warrants a closer look now that documents have surfaced (also see this post) showing hospital commissioners may not have had a strong case for firing Goldstone and Truhe.

In a suit he filed in June, Truhe accused Bernstein of conspiring with Sam Goren, the attorney who landed the general counsel's role after Goldstone and Truhe's dismissals. Last month, Truhe filed a bar complaint against Goren.

A review of recent Broward Health history reveals that Bernstein took an immediate interest in the general counsel's role, dating to his appointment to the board in September 2005.

That month Bernstein made what appeared to be a bold motion: that the district should fire William Scherer, a political insider who had ruled the general counsel's position for 18 years. A generous Republican donor and activist, Scherer was thought to be untouchable; but then, Bernstein was also a generous Republican fundraiser. As a political matter, it seems unlikely he would have been allowed to bump off another powerful GOP leader without Bush's permission.

But in an email yesterday, Bernstein denied that he targeted Scherer based on consultation with the governor's staff, saying that his move came purely from his desire to save legal expenses for the district by hiring an in-house general counsel. "In the first year alone, the savings exceeded $2,500,000," says Bernstein. "Anyone who claims this was not a good move simply has not looked at the full picture, or has an agenda other then good governance."

Indeed, the waste and insider culture associated with Scherer's rule was prominently featured in this New Times article in March 2004, by Bob Norman.

For the taxpayers who fund a portion of the district's $1 billion budget, however, the question is whether that move changed what looked like an incestuous legal culture.

Stay tuned. We'll pick up that thread in a post to come.

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Thomas Francis

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