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Seal Clubbing: Broward Health Attorneys Threaten Blogger

John DeGroot's eponymous blog has been threatened with legal action over his use of the district's corporate seal. In a letter emailed Wednesday, an attorney for the North Broward Hospital District ordered DeGroot to stop using the nonprofit corporation's logo and remove the image from his blog.

In the context of the millions spent by Broward Health's legal department every year, the warning may be a small expense, but it's still symbolic of what's become a lucrative franchise for a Fort Lauderdale firm nearing its one-year anniversary as the district's interim general counsel.

Goren, Cheroff, Doody & Ezrol was retained in May 2009 after the highly questionable decision by hospital commissioners to fire their two lead attorneys, Marc Goldstone and Joe Truhe.

The firm's partner, Sam Goren, allegedly advised Goldstone about how to become licensed as a Florida attorney only to then inform the commission that Goldstone had deceived them, a move that allowed Goren to take Goldstone's job. (Goren has said that he was "surprised" to learn of the commission's decision to hire him on an interim basis.)

In the 11 months since, Goren's firm has been collecting legal fees at about twice the rate of the attorneys who were fired.

But that's not even the biggest waste of legal resources for a hospital system that relies in part on tax dollars. A history of hiring attorneys who didn't police the district's compliance with federal anti-kickback statutes has made it necessary for Broward Health to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a law firm that's conducting an internal investigation of district physician contracts and policies.

The legal threat delivered by Goren's associate, Jacob Horowitz, came just as DeGroot announced a series of investigative articles about the district in the days to come.

And Horowitz may not even have a case. Trademark laws generally protect logos from being used in a way to deceive the public. For instance, it would be an obvious violation if competitor Holy Cross Hospital slapped the Broward Health logo on a medical center as a way to lure Broward Health customers. But no one is going to confuse DeGroot's blog with a hospital.

In a post Wednesday, DeGroot expressed his bewilderment that a district with billions in health-care business would be "ready to sue my saggy old man's ass."

Juice has a pending request to find out exactly how much the public hospital district spent to threaten DeGroot. When we hear back, we'll update this post.

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Thomas Francis

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