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Legally Blind: Broward Health Attorney Forgot to Mention He Can't Practice Law

UPDATE (6/18/09) The post below was published before Juice had the chance to review documents and interview sources with knowledge of the events related to Goldstone's firing. Serious questions exist about whether the commissioners really were misled about his credentials. For a fresher, more fully informed treatment of this subject, read this post first and this one second.

Maybe Troy Kishbaugh had good reasons for being angry about that job he didn't get. The former acting general counsel for the North Broward Hospital District was passed over for a job that instead went to Marc Goldstone. That was in December and only now do we learn that Goldstone has never actually had a license to practice law in Florida. At a late-afternoon emergency meeting yesterday, the commissioners canned him. (Or at least they will if he doesn't resign by this afternoon.)

I had hoped to attend the meeting but couldn't because of an unrelated feature story that needs writing. But judging by the report in the Sun-Sentinel, Goldstone was hired with the understanding he'd get a temporary exemption as he waited to qualify for his Florida license. Only it turned out a general counsel for an entity like the district can't get that exemption, which may explain why Goldstone allegedly failed to apply for it. When, exactly, was Goldstone intending to tell his bosses about this little detail?

Only he knows that. And at the moment, the more pressing question is how one of the five biggest public health care entities in the United States selected for such a critically important job a man who would allegedly commit this grievous error in professional judgment. Just stunning.

As recently as Tuesday, Goldstone was preparing to present the commissioners with a range of legal options related to the charges that Commissioner Joseph Cobo committed ethics violations. Those charges were first made by Kishbaugh after he failed to land the permanent job of general counsel. Cobo, for one, has claimed Kishbaugh's accusations are undermined by a motive to embarrass the district. But with this recent episode, it seems the district's doing a pretty good job of that on its own.

Speaking of embarrassments, I'll try to reconcile this latest episode with my effort in the post below, from yesterday, to credit the hospital district with... what was the word I used? "Progress." That's after the jump.

Before we do that, though, let's rehash this very bizarre week in Broward Health.

When I spoke to district chairman Mike Fernandez Tuesday morning, he told me he was going to decide that day whether to have an emergency meeting to deal with the recently released investigative findings against Cobo. At day's end, a Broward Health spokeswoman told me Fernandez had decided against the special meeting, based on conflicts in schedule. (Now I wonder if one of those conflicts was with Goldstone, who was reportedly in Orlando on Thursday.) It appeared commissioners would deal with Cobo's case at their regularly scheduled meeting May 27.

So when yesterday morning I got word of an emergency meeting, I naturally assumed that the board had worked out those conflicts and that the meeting would address the allegations against Cobo.

But Goldstone was to have a central role in that meeting. The commissioners count on legal counsel for guidance on such ethical matters. Come to think of it, they would also turn to their general counsel if a member of Broward Health's executive staff proved to be a huge liability concern, only that's harder in this case, because the general counsel is the liability concern. Frankly, as troubling as the allegations are against Cobo, the Goldstone situation must get priority.

I mentioned yesterday how the hospital district has a very sordid recent history, but that for the last two years it has made a deliberate effort to address corruption that seemed widespread only five years ago. When it comes to changing an institutional culture, five years is a very short time. And in a sense, if this cast of commissioners and executive staff is serious about restoring the faith of Broward taxpayers, their efforts are likely to cause some ugly and embarrassing scenes, like yesterday's. Like my mom always told me, "To do a good job cleaning, you've got to be willing to get dirty."

The Goldstone affair, then, makes a good excuse to take a closer look at the health system's hiring practices. It's simply unacceptable that no one was monitoring Goldstone's application for permission to practice law in Florida. Just as it was outrageous in August when it was revealed that Rodney E. Miller, hired for the lofty position of chief operating officer at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood, had spent 10 months in an army prison for stealing a credit card and was being investigated for over a million dollars in deposits he had made to an account in the Virgin Islands. None of this turned up on what that hospital's CEO said was a rigorous background check.

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Thomas Francis

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