Attorneys representing the Tulare Local Healthcare District will be headed to trial September 11, defending the district in a case alleging violations of the California Public Records Act.
But it’s not because they want to.
Carlo Coppo and David Balfour, representing the district, argued in filings that the turmoil regarding Senovia Gutierrez’ status as a member would hinder the hospital’s defense.
They stated in a motion for a continuance of the trial that key questions need to be answered — who the members of the board are, who the district’s counsel is, what authority the new board will extend to them, and how confidential communications will be coordinated with respect to legal discussions.
Hon. Judge Melinda Reed disagreed Thursday, denying their motion to delay the trial.
Reed noted that the district’s Board of Directors would meet Aug. 23 — and that, “unless games are played,” Gutierrez would likely be seated as a board member, ending a month of controversy and solving the issues presented.
She also appeared skeptical of the argument advanced by Richard Torrez, Linda Wilbourn, and the hospital’s administration that Gutierrez needed to be declared a board member.
“I don’t know that a declaration by the board of the election is anything more than ministerial,” Reed said early in the hearing.
Coppo told Reed that the current confusion left the firm effectively rudderless, pointing to articles from the Voice and declarations from board members Richard Torrez and Linda Wilbourn that stated they did not believe Gutierrez was a member of the board until she was properly declared as a board member.
Additionally, he said, when Gutierrez assumes her position the new majority could choose to take the case in a different direction — pursuing a different strategy, settling the suit, or even choosing new representation.
“It would be my first time meeting with this board,” Coppo said.
Reed was unfazed.
“I would think that [Gutierrez] is a board member,” Reed said.
“The board is obviously having issues as to its constitution,” Reed continued. “You were hired by the District at some point, and given authorization and direction.”
The Public Records Act suit, filed in September of 2016 by Deanne Martin-Soares and Emily Yenigues, alleged that the district intentionally withheld documents and restricting the public’s access to documents is in violation of the act.
The case will head to trial September 11 at 8:30am in Department 1 of the Tulare County Superior Court.
Wilbourn, Torrez: She Can’t Sit With Us (Yet)
Wilbourn and Torrez’ declarations — both identical, with only their names changed — state that Gutierrez is not a board member, and that she won’t be until they declare her one.
“The Board presently has only 4 members which are myself, Richard Torrez, Kevin Northcraft and Michael Jamaica,” both declarations read.
“Since July 26, 2017, Ms. Gutierrez has been acting as if she were a Board member, and her actions have been endorsed and supported by Mr. Northcraft and Mr. Jamaica. The three of them have now called two ‘special Board meetings’ and held those meetings, despite the fact that both myself and the District’s legal counsel have advised them repeatedly that Ms. Gutierrez is not yet a board member, and therefore she cannot call for a special Board meeting,” both declarations continue. “Ms. Gutierrez, Mr. Northcraft and Mr. Jamaica have ignored these warnings and continue to assert that Ms. Gutierrez is a Board Member and that these meetings are legitimate.”
Both statements continue to state that the trio’s actions are “not actions which [Wilbourn or Torrez] would approve of.”
Lampe’s response states that Coppo and Balfour join a “group of perhaps four or five individuals who have a question regarding Dr. Kumar’s humiliating election defeat.”
Drinking the Kool-Aid
Included in the filing are exchanges between Bruce Greene of the BakerHostetler firm and attorneys with McCormick Barstow. Greene also represents Healthcare Conglomerate Associates (HCCA) the company which manages day-to-day operations at Tulare Regional Medical Center.
Gutierrez, Northcraft and Jamaica voted to terminate the district’s relationship with Green and retain McCormick Barstow. But HCCA, Wilbourn, Torrez and Greene contend that those meetings weren’t legal and Gutierrez isn’t a board member — Greene told McCormick Barstow’s attorneys as much.
“Despite what Mr Northcraft and/or Mr Jamaica may have told you, there has been no vote of a legitimate majority of the Board to engage your firm or even to explore the possibility of engaging your firm as legal counsel,” Greene writes.
Attorneys with McCormick Barstow fired back: they stated that a majority of the board — including Gutierrez — had both terminated the district’s contract with Baker Hostetler and hired McCormick Barstow, and that “to the extent that [Greene] continue[s] to act as the District’s legal counsel,” he “does so without authority.”
The firm also claims HCCA purposefully threw up roadblocks to prevent Gutierrez from meeting the standards that were declared necessary.
“On July 21, 2017 at 5:27pm, Mr. Northcraft made written request that a declaration of the election results be added to the agenda for the next regularly scheduled Board meeting which was to be held on July 26, 2017,” the reply reads. “The following day, on July 22, 2017 at approximately 8:00pm, HCCA posted the for the meeting to its website which included what appears to be a carefully crafted announcement of the election results, but failed to add an item to ‘declare’ the results of the election.”
They continue by claiming that Northcraft made a second request to add the declaration to the agenda, without any result, and that Greene personally stonewalled a further attempt to clarify the issue quickly.
Greene’s response is pointed.
“Your understanding of the facts is not correct. Your analysis of the law is likewise not correct. However, judging from the tone of your letter and prior communications from you,” Greene writes, “I am afraid that you ‘drank the Kool-Aid’ which has been purveyed by Mr. Northcraft and his associates.”