Bruce Greene, an attorney who previously represented the Tulare Local Healthcare District (TLHCD), must now defend himself in a multi-charge disciplinary hearing by the California State Bar, the body that licenses California’s attorneys and oversees their professional conduct. That’s in addition to defending himself against criminal charges in Tulare County Superior Court.
State Bar Alleges ‘Moral Turpitude, Dishonesty, Corruption’
The State Bar’s Office of Chief Trial Counsel, in a filing made in the State Bar Court of Los Angeles on September 29, asserts Greene knowingly profited from a direct conflict of interest arising from his simultaneous representation of the Tulare district as well as the contractor it hired to run Tulare Regional Medical Center, Healthcare Conglomerate Associates (HCCA).
Greene faces eight counts stemming from alleged conflicts of interest that occurred when he was representing both the Tulare district and HCCA, as well as HCCA’s owner Dr. Yorai ‘Benny’ Benzeevi.
Prosecutors claim that Greene acted to benefit Benzeevi, himself and his law firm, BakerHostetler, at the expense of the taxpayers in the TLHCD.
Greene acted, State Bar lawyers allege, with “moral turpitude, dishonesty and corruption” when he allegedly helped Benzeevi and HCCA obtain a $3 million loan secured against district assets: approximately $500,000 of those funds later went to his firm to cover past due legal bills, according to the filing and prior Voice reporting.
The Bar’s attorneys pulled no punches while describing the allegations against Greene in their initial notice of disciplinary charges:
“Between approximately March 2017 and September 2017, respondent acted with a self-interested and corrupt motive to financially benefit himself, his firm, and one client, Dr. Yorai Benzeevi, at the expense of another client, the Tulare Local Healthcare District (doing business as) Tulare Regional Medical Center, when he interfered with the local electoral process for the district’s Board of Directors to facilitate an unauthorized purchase-leaseback transaction between the district and Celtic Leasing Corporation, the proceeds of which were used to pay respondent’s outstanding legal fees for the district (approximately $500,000) and to pay debts owed by the District to a company owned by Dr. Benzeevi, Healthcare Conglomerate Associates, LLC (approximately $2.4 million).”
Former TLHCD Board Members Initially Approved Dual Representation
The initial filing from the State Bar states that former TLHCD directors Sherrie Bell, Laura Gadke, Dr. Parmod Kumar, Richard Torrez and Linda Wilbourn, who comprised the TLHCD Board of Directors in 2016, initially backed Greene representing both the district and Benzeevi’s companies.
“Like the board that selected HCCA to manage the district, these five board members generally supported Dr. Benzeevi’s approach to managing the district and also supported HCCA’s hiring of respondent (Greene) and (BakerHostetler) as the District’s general counsel.”
The 21-page notice of disciplinary hearing gives a blow-by-blow account of attempts to retake control of the TLHCD and the allegedly illegal resistance to relinquish that power on the part of Greene and Benzeevi.
It also details how Greene helped Benzeevi sell district property worth $3 million to Celtic Leasing, agreed the district would pay Celtic $82,000 a month to lease it back, then allegedly funneled income from the deal through another of Benzeevi’s companies and into Benzeevi’s pockets and those of BakerHostetler. The deal was made after a newly-seated TLHCD board had already fired Greene and his firm.
Nine Charges Against Greene
In total, Greene faces nine counts in the hearing. Four of the charges are for his apparent conflicts of interest, the details of which are included in the State Bar’s filing. The claims allege Greene created conflicts by representing Benzeevi and his companies, as well as the Tulare district, at the same time.
Prosecutors claim Greene knowingly and repeatedly acted in favor of one client – Benzeevi – against the interests of another, TLHCD.
The remaining four counts detail Greene’s alleged “moral turpitude” displayed in “deceptive and oppressive acts.” Those acts include preventing the seating of an elected member of the TLHCD board of directors; facilitation of the Celtic purchase-leaseback agreement; a breach of duty of loyalty to his client, and simple corruption.
Details included in the State Bar’s allegations appear damning:
“Between on or about July 26, 2017, and on or about September 26, 2017, respondent intentionally acted with a corrupt and self-interested motive to the detriment of his client or former client, the District, when he caused the Celtic Leasing purchase-leaseback transaction to be finalized, allowed $3 million in proceeds from that transaction to be placed in a bank account controlled by Dr. Benzeevi, and caused respondent’s own law firm’s fees in the amount of $509,727.93 to be paid from those proceeds.”
A ninth charge alleges Greene misled a judge in a 2017 writ of mandate case brought by the Tulare County District Attorney against Torrez that sought to force him to recognize Senovia Gutierrez as a board member.
The filing claims that Greene misled a judge when he swore in a declaration that attorney Cary Davidson supported such an interpretation of the elections code “when that statement was false, and respondent knew the statement was false, and thereby sought to mislead the judge or judicial officer,” the filing reads.
Greene’s Attorney Asks for Delay
A pretrial teleconference in the action against Greene is set for 9:45 a.m. on February 5, 2024 before Judge Yvette Roland in the State Bar Court of Los Angeles. Also pending is a voluntary settlement teleconference with Roland presiding set for 9:30 a.m. on December 12.
However, Greene’s attorneys have requested the State Bar disciplinary hearing be delayed.
On November 30, Greene’s attorneys James Murphy and Harlan Watkins asked the court to “abate” the disciplinary hearing. The delay would allow “resolution of the parallel and ongoing criminal proceeding in Tulare County against (Greene) and two other key witnesses (Benzeevi and former HCCA CFO Alan Germany) in this matter. …”
On November 9, Germany pleaded no contest to two charges in the Tulare County prosecution, one felony and one misdemeanor criminal count. In exchange for his plea, Germany will face two years of probation, was required to write a letter of apology to his victims and paid $150,000 restitution. He faced up to three years behind bars.
Greene declined a plea offer made to him by the Tulare County District Attorney’s office, according to his attorney in the criminal case.
Should the proceeding move beyond the settlement hearing and request for abatement, Greene’s disciplinary hearing will start at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, February 27 before Judge Dennis Saab. Saab’s court has set aside 10 days for Greene’s hearing.
Greene’s Lawyers Claim Victimhood
Included in the motion to abate the disciplinary hearing is an assertion Greene was actually the victim of political plotting by members of the group Citizens for Hospital Accountability and the board members the group helped elect.
“At its core, this action is the result of a political dispute between TLHCD’s current and former board members,” Greene’s lawyers wrote.
Greene’s attorneys Murphy and Watkins claim the individuals who worked to oust the former board members were intent on throwing their political weight around. They chose Greene as their target.
“Once Citizens for Hospital Accountability took control of the District in 2017, it used its newfound political power and clout to punish its political rivals by, among other things, initiating civil litigation against BakerHostetler, (Greene) and several former board members, and fomenting criminal investigation and ultimately charges against several of its perceived rivals in Tulare County, including (Greene).”
The ongoing criminal prosecution of Greene and co-defendant Benzeevi in Tulare County will continue at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, December 12. He will appear before Judge Michael Sheltzer for a hearing on motions to “exclude evidence, cease review and seal.”