Attorney Stuart James, saying it was "a step in being totally transparent with the public," said his firm of James, James and Joyner of Chattanooga has billed Walker County $62,419 for services in the Hutcheson Hospital litigation, while Jenkins and Bowen, based in Cartersville, has received a $10,000 retainer for their services. To date, the firm has billed less than $2500 against the retainer.
Attorney James said an Open Records Request was filed asking for how much Erlanger has spent on legal bills in the Hutcheson case. He said, "The hospital has not responded to the request with the records that were due well over two weeks ago. This is a clear violation of the law."
He said Jenkins and Bowen were retained in June to represent the Walker County members of the Tri-County Hospital Authority "after threats were made by Erlanger to sue the members individually to sign an unacceptable agreement."
Walker County Attorney Don Oliver said, “We are happy to reveal Walker County's legal fees in this matter, which are double or triple what they should have been and would likely have been if Erlanger had not consistently litigated with a vengeance to close Hutcheson while refusing to negotiate a reasonable settlement.”
He added, “Walker County was forced to provide legal representation for its volunteer citizen board members when Erlanger’s Atlanta-based counsel threatened to financially ruin the Hutcheson board members in a strong arm tactic designed to force the board into an unreasonable settlement. Knowing the Bankruptcy Trustee had allowed the Hutcheson Board’s insurance defense coverage to lapse, leaving the board members to pay for any lawsuit defense from their own pockets, Erlanger unconscionably threatened to sue them personally if they did not sign the settlement agreement.
“Walker County's board members have made great sacrifices to serve our community as volunteers, and Commissioner Bebe Heiskell believes that protecting members asked to serve was and is the only reasonable response from the County. Commissioner Heiskell asked Dade and Catoosa to participate and protect their members, but each declined to participate in the defense of its board members.”
Attorney James said, “It is my duty as an officer of the Court to represent my clients to the best of my ability. The steps taken by Erlanger have not only impacted the citizens of Walker County and the Hospital Authority but also public funds entrusted to Erlanger by taxpayers in Chattanooga and Hamilton County. We believe in full disclosure when it comes to the investment of taxpayer dollars and challenge Erlanger to do the same. The citizens of Chattanooga and Hamilton County deserve to know how much they’ve paid for legal representation in this situation.”
He said both his firm and that of Jenkins and Bowen "have taken numerous steps to reach a settlement with Erlanger. We’ve been good stewards of taxpayer dollars used to pay for our professional services; however, we believe that the taxpayers of Chattanooga and Hamilton County will be shocked by the charges racked up by Erlanger’s legal team. We hope this shock will lead to a public outcry for settlement of this situation once and for all.”