Stent doctor's fraud lawsuit transferred to Baltimore County

Judge argues with lawyer over ruling

January 24, 2011|By Tricia Bishop, The Baltimore Sun

A $60 million fraud lawsuit filed by Dr. Mark Midei against St. Joseph Medical Center — the Towson hospital that claimed he performed unnecessary stent procedures — was transferred to Baltimore County on Monday by a city judge who also threw Midei's attorney out of the courtroom and called information in his legal filings "dated" and "inaccurate."

Baltimore Circuit Judge Evelyn Omega Cannon found that neither St. Joseph nor its parent company and co-defendant in the case, Catholic Health Initiatives, does business in the city and that no unnecessary procedures occurred there. For those reasons, she said, the city was an improper venue for the lawsuit, filed in October.

Midei's attorney, Stephen B. Snyder, disagreed and interrupted the judge while she was ruling.

"I will call the sheriff if you don't shut up," she yelled, telling Snyder to get "ahold" of himself. When he spoke again, she ordered him to "step out."

Snyder, who is set to appear before Cannon next week in another matter, said in an interview that the judge was "ill-equipped" to decide the venue issue and that she's been disrespectful toward him and others before.

"I intend to file a complaint with the Judicial Disabilities Commission," he said. He also plans to file a motion for reconsideration of Monday's ruling, he said, and to ask that someone other than Cannon hear it.

Through her secretary, Cannon declined to comment further Monday.

The exchange, though heated, appeared to have little effect on the hearing, which was held to determine whether the case could proceed in Baltimore, where juries are known for granting higher monetary awards.

Most of the 80-plus stent lawsuits filed by former patients against Midei, claiming he overestimated their arterial blockage to justify stent placements, were filed in the city this month by medical malpractice attorney Jay Miller, who filed 62 lawsuits on Jan. 14, according to online court records.

They're also likely to remain in Baltimore, if recent history is a guide. A judge ruled this summer that a similar stent lawsuit filed on behalf of patients against St. Joseph can stay in Baltimore courts.

Those suits are different from the case Midei filed against his former employer, however, Cannon ruled.

"She didn't understand the allegations in our case," Snyder said. He says Midei was injured in Baltimore because city-based media published accounts of the allegations against him, which became known after St. Joseph began sending warning letters to patients.

The judge rejected that argument, saying the allegations "might have been published" elsewhere, including on the Internet, opening the case up to the world and giving Baltimore no special status.

State legislators and the U.S. Senate launched investigations into the claims in response to articles published in The Baltimore Sun. And St. Joseph later repaid several million dollars in federal Medicare funds it received for Midei's procedures to settle potential government claims. The hospital has also revamped its internal review systems and has agreed to operate under increased federal oversight for the next five years.

Snyder also argued that St. Joseph does business in the city through a mobile clinic. But defense attorney William Blakely said the operation had shut down; he provided sworn testimony to back his claims and to counter Snyder's.

Cannon determined that one of Midei's legal filings was therefore "inaccurate."

"It's clear that [the cause of action] did not arise in Baltimore City," she said, shortly before issuing her ruling and expelling Snyder.

He left, muttering. Cannon removed her glasses and paused before recounting what happened for the official court record.

"Even on his way out the door, he said something," she said in court.

Said Snyder: "The wearing of a robe gives you no right to tell a lawyer to 'shut up' in the courtroom and ask him to leave and not allow him to finish what he was trying to articulate for the court. It is evidence of poor judicial behavior."

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