Barton lawsuit dismissal denied
An attempt by Barton Memorial Hospital to get part or all of a civil case against it dismissed was denied Thursday by a visiting judge.
Judge Allen Fields, a retired judge from Sacramento, found there were numerous triable issues of fact in the civil case filed in El Dorado County Superior Court by the Carson Valley Medical Group. The judge also returned the location of the trial to South Lake Tahoe. El Dorado County Presiding Judge Patrick Riley previously moved the trial to Placerville.
In the lawsuit, filed in March 1997, the doctors’ group accuses the hospital, Barton’s Management Services Organization, and Barton’s Chief Executive Officer William Gordon of racketeering, trade libel, fraud and unfair business practices. The doctors claim Gordon and the hospital attempted to undermine the future of the group’s practice in the Gardnerville/Minden area, a previously underserved market.
Gordon has repeatedly stated that two judges in two separate settlement conferences have called the medical group’s case “weak.” Despite Judge Fields’ decision supporting the doctors’ case, Gordon still questions the motives behind the suit.
“There is no question in my mind that they filed this lawsuit because they knew they owed the hospital a large amount of money,” Gordon said. “They’re trying to find some way to not have to pay the hospital.”
Carson Valley Medical Group filed its suit in California five days before the hospital filed suit in Nevada. The hospital is suing the medical group for about $520,000 that hospital officials claim represents a lease termination payout schedule outlined in a 1994 agreement between the group and hospital.
“Nothing was stricken from our case,” said Matthew Steinberg, counsel for the doctors’ group. “We have a really strong case and we are fit, willing and able to go to trial now.”
Although both sides said they are willing to try the case the trial dates in September were vacated last week. The new trial date is May 3, 1999 – more than two years after the case was filed.
Alex Aikman, El Dorado County Courts coordinator, said there are many reasons why it might take a long time for a civil case like this one to come to trial.
“There are courtroom problems at Tahoe,” Aikman said. “This will be a longer trial and matters are scheduled every week in those courtrooms.”
Aikman also said Judge Fields spends several months of the year working in the Northern Mariana Islands in the West Pacific.
Another reason for the delay was finding a judge acceptable to both sides. Several El Dorado County judges were objected to by the medical group or recused themselves because of former contacts with Barton and conflicts of interest.
The delay again puts the medical group in the situation of having to face the Nevada case against them first. That case was continued in June to Dec. 7.
Steinberg said his clients will probably ask for a continuance on the Nevada case until after the California trial.
“Our suit was filed first and it is only logical that the Nevada case follow it,” Steinberg said.
Gordon said the hospital is not trying to spread the doctors’ suit out, but he feels it would be good to get the hospital’s case out of the way first.
“I think it will clear up a lot of things if our case goes first,” Gordon said. “It is essentially about money owed to the hospital.”
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