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State Attorney Records Offer New Glimpse of Controversial General Counsel Firings

The Broward State Attorney's Office just released a closeout memo that explains its reasons for not filing a criminal case against attorney Marc Goldstone. The former general counsel of Broward Health, Goldstone was hired in late 2008, then fired by the public hospital district in mid-May 2009 after commissioners claim they were misled about how he planned to be admitted to the Florida Bar.

The memo confirms doubts that have been posted here about whether Goldstone's termination -- and that of his associate general counsel, Joe Truhe -- was purely about his state license. There are plenty of other political motives at a district that's been riddled with scandal over the past year.

The State Attorney's memo quotes an exchange between Commissioner Robert Bernstein and Goldstone that occurred at an interview the job candidate had with the hospital board on November 5, 2008:

Commissioner Bernstein: "OK. So you're -- you're licensed in Florida?"

Mr. Goldstone: "I'm licensed in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. "Florida, I had and can reactive an in-house counsel license. But frankly, getting admitted in Florida would just be a matter of taking another bar."
Goldstone later clarified, saying, "I'm not licensed in Florida." At the time of the interview, he was associate general counsel for a hospital system in Franklin, Tennessee. Goldstone had previously worked in Florida's Tenet Healthcare system. Since the bar rules consider Tenet a "business organization," he was eligible to obtain "authorized house counsel" status in Florida. Goldstone was mistaken in thinking that he could again take that route to being licensed for work at Broward Health, which is not considered a business organization.

But as we posted on Juice several months ago, the question is why Goldstone -- the out-of-state job candidate -- should be punished for making that initial mistake when Broward Health had at least two licensed Florida attorneys who could have corrected Goldstone's oversight: human resources director Dionne Wong and chief operating officer Spencer Levine, who's since been appointed to a state appeals court.

Even after Goldstone was hired, Wong and Levine allowed Goldstone to continue operating under the illusion that he could gain authorized house counsel status. On January 6, Goldstone filled out an application for authorized house counsel, which needed Wong's signature. In a sworn statement with the state attorney, "Ms. Wong testified that she did not read the certificate either before or after signing the document."

Prosecutors found that by doing so, Wong "missed the opportunity to discover that Marc Goldstone would not be able to obtain authorized house counsel status." So who discovered it?

Marc Goldstone claims that he did, roughly around January 20, the date that he sent a formal letter offering the associate general counsel position to Truhe, who had the same recollection. Wong denied that claim.

The two sides also differ about whether Goldstone informed the district's Legal Review Committee of his change of plans, on March 18. There's no tape of that meeting.

At the very least, Goldstone's intention to take the bar was made clear on April 17, when he sent a $2,500 check to cover the application fee.

At the beginning of May 2009, says the memo, "Commissioner Bernstein discovered that Marc Goldstone had never obtained authorized house counsel certification," but we already knew that. The $64,000 question -- which Bernstein himself has refused to answer -- is how Bernstein learned of this. The memo offers no clue.

Fort Lauderdale attorney Sam Goren was called upon to review Goldstone's bar status. In doing so, says the memo, Goren found there was a "significant problem." Shortly thereafter, Goldstone was fired. And his powerful job was then given to that same investigator: Sam Goren, who remains in that position today, at a cost that's roughly twice what the public hospital district was paying Goldstone and Truhe.

Indeed, in a whistleblower lawsuit, Goldstone himself has stated that he was relying upon the advice of Goren during his transition to the general counsel's position.

Ultimately, the prosecutor found "insufficient evidence that Marc Goldstone intentionally or willfully violated either the letter or the spirit of Section 454.23 (of Florida Statutes)." What's more, he found that the six commissioners interviewed "all were very satisfied with the quality of Marc Goldstone's work and legal expertise."

And maybe that was the problem: that Goldstone was good at his job. At the time Goldstone and Truhe were fired, they were preparing to recommend a board action in response to an internal investigation into ethical misconduct by Commissioner Joseph Cobo. They had also cut billings to politically powerful law firms like Gray-Robinson. And they had recently uncovered a potential legal disaster: the district's having left itself exposed to an investigation by the federal government for fraud.

An outside firm is conducting that internal investigation as we speak.

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Thomas Francis

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