Community Hospital's Defense Strategy at Trial Will Likely Expose Drama in Each Side's Workplaces
SAN ANGELO, TX — The discovery phase for the upcoming trial between an independent San Angelo cardiologist and Community Medical Center; its physician’s affiliated organization, Community Medical Associates; parent Community Health Systems, Inc., and Community’s head cardiologist Dr. Michael S. Blanc may have revealed part of Community’s legal team’s defense strategy Tuesday afternoon at the Tom Green County Courthouse.
That strategy may expose workplace practices and the ensuing drama around both sides’ organizations.
Independent San Angelo cardiologist Dr. Miltadis (Milton) Leon alleges Community et. al. has engaged in anti-competitive trade practices designed to put him out of business, or to force him to join a physicians’ group in defeat. He sued Community in a Tom Green County district court in 2016. The trial is scheduled for late 2019.
The two sides were in court Tuesday arguing over a motion to compel the other side to release requested evidence.
For Community’s defense, Dallas attorney William Katz said that his side has been waiting for too long to get requested items of discovery from plaintiff Dr. Leon. Katz said he wanted the court to allow him to ask for any information from the plaintiff and get the opposing side’s answers within 14 days.
“We’ve been waiting for two years to get this information,” Katz told Judge Charles Chapman.
Sitting Judge Chapman is visiting from Abilene to preside over the upcoming trial after 51st District Judge Barbara Walther recused herself from this case two years ago. Her late husband was a doctor affiliated with Community.
The defense, led by Irving attorney Paul Craig Laird, II, wants to restrict Community’s discovery to just documents and witnesses pertinent to the anti-trust aspects of the plaintiff’s complaint. Besides, Laird said, “Sometimes things are within the realm of attorney-client privilege.”
“They want a list of everyone who has ever worked in Dr. Leon’s office, even those who have been terminated or fired,” Laird complained to the judge. “I cannot allow a fishing expedition.”
Judge Chapman appeared to be contemplating where to draw a line around what could be asked by the other side in discovery.
Katz responded in a spirited fashion. “This is not an anti-trust case,” he argued. Katz told the judge that their side is curious as to why Dr. Leon’s practice “is failing.” It cannot be Community’s actions to restrict Leon’s practice, as the plaintiff’s allege, he said. “For example, we know Dr. Leon takes a whole month off to travel to Greece every year,” Katz said. “I am entitled to talk to people about his business practices.”
Laird responded, “If they want to bring in everyone who has worked for or been professionally affiliated with Dr. Leon, do I need to bring in every nurse at Community to testify?”
“What do they have to hide?” Katz chided. “I’m just asking for their identity [of employees and ex-employees]. If Dr. Leon’s practice is failing, I think I have the obligation to ask his bookkeeper about his books.”
Laird relented somewhat. “We’re not worried about disclosing relevant information,” he said.
The discussion with the judge then turned to the timeframe around what documents and witnesses could be requested from each side.
“At one time, both parties were happy with each other,” he said. “When did the rift in the relationship begin?” the judge asked.
Katz and Laird seemed to agree upon a timeframe of anything after July 1, 2010. The original petition, or lawsuit, lists the first conflict happening in October 2010 when Dr. Leon’s first assistant cardiologist was of concern of Community.
The judge furiously re-wrote the motion to compel while sitting on the bench: the timeframe of “since July 2010” and the types of items that could be requested. He gave each side an out. If either side desired to withhold requested evidence, the attorney would create a “privilege log.” That is, if the requested item exists, but the opposing attorney doesn’t want to disclose it for the court, that attorney must provide a log of those withheld items.
Instead of 14 days, the judge ordered that either side has 30 days from the date of the request for the evidence or privilege log to be produced.
The judge set a hearing date of January 10, 2019 as the time for both sides to argue for the release of items on each side’s respective privilege log.
On the way out of the courtroom, Katz would not confirm that he was going after Dr. Leon’s business practices as a defense strategy. “I cannot talk on the record until I clear it with my client,” he said.
Laird was more forthcoming. Emphasizing his side had nothing to hide, he said, “Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”
Laird chronicled evidence his side has already collected about the workplace environment inside Community’s cardiology department.