Broward News

Hospital District Emails Reveal Lawyer's Bid to Save His Job

Judging by Marc Goldstone's email inbox, the week of May 11 began like any other. That was a Monday, and the general counsel for the North Broward Hospital District exchanged emails with CEO Frank Nask about attending a health care convention the first week of June. But by Tuesday May 12 Commissioner Robert Bernstein had called Nask to report concerns about whether Goldstone had followed proper procedures for being licensed to practice law in Florida.

As Goldstone's own attorney Bill Amlong tells it, "Bernstein came up with this thing about Goldstone not being 'authorized house counsel' and Goldstone talked to Sam Goren about it, and (Goren) said, 'No problem.'" Amlong continues: "Then (on Thursday) Goldstone goes to his brother's law school graduation at Central Florida, thinking there's no issue. Then we (Amlong's firm) get a call at 5:30, at which time he hires us -- because he'd just been fired."

In a post last week, Juice raised questions about whether the board really had been kept in the dark about Goldstone's qualifications, as it claimed then.

Goldstone himself has not commented on the matter. But a public records request for Goldstone's last week of emails provide more evidence that the board had a flimsy basis for terminating him and his associate general counsel, Joe Truhe, who has gone public with his own questions about the board's motives.

On the morning of Thursday May 14, shortly before leaving for what he must have hoped would be a relaxing weekend with his brother's friends and family, Goldstone wrote an 18-point memo describing in detail the process by which he was hired by the board, how he had told commissioners at a meeting in March about his intention to take the Florida Bar exam rather than the authorized house counsel path toward state licensure.

In the memo, Goldstone makes note of the "national shortage of qualified candidates" for general counsel in a large public health care district like Broward Health, making a national search necessary. Since each state has its own bar, he explains, it's necessary for a hospital district to provide a means for its newly hired general counsel from out-of-state to begin working in advance of taking the bar.

Among those options, Goldstone says the district could have clarified his duties, such that he occupied managerial role, doling out assignments to outside firms and to district attorneys licensed by the state. Or it could have changed his and Truhe's job titles until they were admitted to the bar. Yet another option: The district could treat them the way law firms often treat out-of-state hires, placing them on paid leave as they study for the bar exam.

And even if none of those options are perfect, Goldstone offers a critique of the option that involves termination. As an attorney whose job it is to evaluate the district's legal exposure, he notes that the district would not only lose his service and that of Truhe but that it would make itself vulnerable to "potential whistleblower liability" and "potential wrongful termination liability."

Sure sounds like he's saying that as general counsel he'd hate to have to defend that suit and that as ex-general counsel he'd be likely to bring it. (Expect it to be filed any day now.)

But on that Thursday, May 14, Goldstone motored off to Orlando convinced he'd given the district a simple choice they couldn't possibly get wrong. "He had no clue he was going to be terminated," says Amlong. But that very morning, an emergency meeting was called. Goldstone wasn't there. Truhe watched with disbelief.

At the very least, it seems the board acted too quickly. Based on the available evidence, commissioners appear to have also acted unwisely. That is, if they're going to stick to their story about not knowing about Goldstone's qualifications when there's ample evidence they did. It begs the question of whether there's another reason that Goldstone and Truhe lost their jobs. Says Amlong, "I just know that they could not have fired (Goldstone) for the reasons they say they did."

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Thomas Francis