The legal troubles at Broward Health reached new heights this week when top executives were indicted on criminal charges that they violated Florida’s open government law by allegedly holding secret meetings where they decided to fire the former interim CEO.
A grand jury indicted the board of commissioners of the North Broward Hospital District on charges they violated Florida’s Sunshine Law, regulations that ensure public boards conduct their business in public or open meetings. The board allegedly violated the law when they voted to terminate Pauline Grant in December 2016.
The board said it had voted to remove Grant after an investigation revealed probable violations of the anti-kickback statute.
Similar accusations have been made in civil actions but this is the first indictments in the case (PDF) against the officials, which include Rocky Rodriguez, chairman board, interim CEO Beverly Capasso, General Counsel Lynn Barrett, board member Christopher Ure and former board member Linda Robison. Each is charged with conspiracy to violate the public meetings law and could face fines of up to $500 and 60 days in jail, the SunSentinel reports.
Barrett is also charged with solicitation to violate the open meeting law, according to the article.
But the attorneys for the hospital district and Barrett said in a media statement sent to FierceHealthcare that “this is the most misguided prosecution we have ever seen” and that the investigation was “predetermined, biased and manipulated from the start.
They said the State’s Attorney’s Office refused to subpoena critical witnesses to the grand jury who had “essential exculpatory evidence about defendants’ compliance with the Sunshine Laws.”
All the defendants, they said, are innocent and will be exonerated at the trial.
But one former board member, who was in the audience when the board voted to fire Grant, said the firing was definitely planned. “You had to be a total moron not to see that this was totally orchestrated and decided before they got in there,” Joe Cobo told Local 10 News.
The charges are also the latest of ongoing turmoil in the system. An independent review last year described operational mismanagement, high senior management turnover, low employee morale and inappropriate interference by members of the hospital’s former board of commissioners into operational matters. The report described the problems were a result of a “cultural civil war” within the system.