Broward News

Former Hospital District Attorney Settles Whistleblower Suit Against Hospital

With all the money Broward Health spends on lawyers, you'd think it would be able to cut down on its legal blunders. The district, it seems, has a tendency to pay its lawyers excessively -- and to continue paying long after those lawyers have left.

The latest example is Joe Truhe, associate general counsel of Broward Health, who was fired in May 2009. Last month, the district quietly settled the lawsuit Truhe filed against the hospital district. Under the terms of the settlement, Broward Health will pay Truhe a severance worth half a year's salary.

The official reason cited by Broward Health commissioners for the firing of Truhe and the district's general counsel, Marc Goldstone, was that the two attorneys had misled the board as to the way they'd become licensed to practice law in Florida.

In the suit, Truhe alleged that the real reason was

that the commissioners wanted lawyers who would be more accommodating when it came to containing any of the numerous corruption scandals. Goldstone and Truhe were fired just before they were to recommend how the district should handle an investigative report that found evidence of fraud against Commissioner Joseph Cobo.

At the time of their firing, the two attorneys had recently become concerned about what appeared to be a tradition of skirting anti-kickback laws. Goldstone and Truhe wanted to hire a law firm to investigate the district's compliance and head off a federal investigation that could cost the district millions in penalties.

Adding further intrigue, the attorney who had been advising Goldstone about how to become licensed in Florida, Sam Goren, played a role in convincing commissioners to terminate Goldstone -- after which Goren was hired as the interim replacement.

Last month was the one-year anniversary of Goren's ascension to general counsel. Because he and the other attorneys at his Fort Lauderdale firm are not on salary but bill by the hour, they cost roughly twice the amount the district had been paying Goldstone and Truhe. Goren was also hired despite having no expertise in health-care law.

But the tradition of overpaying attorneys goes back much further, to the era of Bill Scherer, who milked the public-health cash cow for some 18 years before Bob Norman's New Times article brought about his ouster.

The district looked like it would finally save money after it hired Laura Seidman, who reduced outside billings until, in 2008, she resigned under political pressure. The district would pay her $230,000 salary as severance, then embark on a six-month search for a new general counsel: Marc Goldstone. Only to fire Goldstone six months after hiring him.

Goldstone has also filed suit against the district. That case could go to trial next month. And if the outcome of Truhe's suit is any indication, the district isn't playing with a strong hand, meaning that Goldsone too will be paid handsomely by a district where politics is allowed to affect hiring and firing decisions.

Potentially, the district could be paying double the rate to its current, unqualified general counsel at the same time as it pays the standard rate to the two general counsel lawyers it fired last year -- without the benefit of receiving those lawyers' qualified health-care legal expertise. That's one lawyer for the price of three.

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Thomas Francis