Broward News

Conflicts Loom Large for Current Hospital District Attorney

Sam Goren, acting general counsel for the $1 billion North Broward Hospital District, took that job despite having conflicts of interest, according to statements Goren himself made to a district investigator months before Goren assumed his new position.

The investigator, Miami attorney Martin Goldberg, was hired by the board to look into reports of ethics violations by Commissioner Joseph Cobo. In documents released today and provided to Juice through a public records request, Goldberg writes:

At the outset of our interview, Goren advised that he had a conflict of interest concerning Cobo because Goren is legal counsel for the Broward County Housing Authority, of which Cobo is a member.
Technically David Tolces serves as the housing authority's general counsel, but he is an associate of Goren's Fort Lauderdale firm. So the conflict, of course, is that Goren has an interest in his firm's continuing to represent the housing authority, meaning that he would have every reason to stay in the good graces of a commissioner like Cobo, who is also a commissioner on the hospital board.

On May 15, at an emergency meeting of the district's board, Goren advised commissioners about then-general counsel Marc Goldstone, who was under fire for allegedly being incomplete in his own disclosure about how he'd become licensed to practice law in Florida. At that meeting, Goldstone was fired, and Goren accepted the position on an interim basis.

Then on May 27, Goren advised the board on how to handle Goldberg's report of investigative findings, which included five instances that in Goldberg's opinion amounted to a potentially improper mingling of Cobo's public responsibilities and his private health-care consultant's work. At the time, Goren's recommendation to send the report to Gov. Charlie Crist, who had appointed Cobo to the board, seemed a light punishment, considering it could have been sent to the Florida Commission on Ethics or the Broward State Attorneys Office, where the findings could potentially lead to criminal charges. This became more evident after the state attorney intercepted the Cobo report anyway and opened a criminal investigation on its own initiative.

This morning, I sent Goren an email seeking clarification on whether Goldberg's account of the interview was accurate and asking whether Goren had disclosed to the hospital district commissioners the same conflicts he had described to Goldberg. "I have no comment," he said in his reply.

After the jump, two more potential conflicts.

Before we describe those conflicts, a bit more context. The allegations against Commissioner Cobo originated with another acting general counsel, Troy Kishbaugh, who had sought out the job on a permanent basis. But Kishbaugh lost that bid in December to Marc Goldstone, who was the top candidate identified by a talent recruitment firm.

So it's interesting to learn, based on Goldberg's interview, that Goren is a "friend" of Kishbaugh's. That apparently is why Goldberg sought to interview Goren for the investigation. His report says that on the evening of December 5, Kishbaugh phoned Goren seeking advice about how to handle what he believed to be unethical interference by Cobo in connection with a lease dispute at Imperial Point Medical Center.

Before giving Kishbaugh advice, Goren said that he had cautioned his friend, according to the Goldberg account:

"[H]e would be unable render any legal opinions regarding the matter for numerous reasons, including conflicts of interest. Goren's sister and father previously worked for/were employed by Broward Health."
Speaking personally as someone who has attended every commission meeting since Goren took over as acting general counsel, I've never heard him disclose that conflict -- or for that matter his firm's legal position with the housing authority or his friendship with Kishbaugh.

(UPDATE: Broward Health VP of corporate communications Sara Howley confirms that Goren's father worked for the district but says he has retired. The same is true, she says, of Goren's sister.)

And that friendship certainly poses risks of conflict, given that the investigation was launched based on Kishbaugh's report. It's worth noting that Kishbaugh had misgivings about reporting the allegations against Cobo, so much so that according to Goldberg, Kishbaugh kept his Cobo files on a personal home computer so they'd be out of the public domain and destroyed them before his meeting with Goldberg, who writes in his May 7 report to the board: "We then asked Kisbaugh for access to his document... Kishbaugh refused but then produced a 'recreated' document -- the January 22 memorandum -- which now serves as the catalyst" for the investigation of Cobo.

So in short, the angst-ridden source of an investigation ends up with his alleged friend in a position to direct the board on how to handle that investigation's report. That must have been a relief. (Kishbaugh has not responded to emails requesting an interview about his time at the hospital district.)

In his account of their conversation, Goldberg notes that Goren lectured commissioners at a retreat two years ago in Palm Beach on the very subject of ethics, which is an area of expertise he stresses in the profile page he keeps at his firm's website.

The two-page document containing Goldberg's notes from his interview with Goren is here.

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Thomas Francis