This case is interesting because it involves several of the same lawyers and law firms that misuse the courts for political or financial gain in San Diego County schools. Greg Moser is one such attorney.
See all posts on Tri-City Healthcare.
VISTA: Judge dismisses felony charge against Tri-City director Sterling
By PAUL SISSON
North County Times--Californian
June 1, 2011
After a two-day preliminary hearing, a Vista Superior Court judge on dismissed a felony vote-trading charge against Tri-City Healthcare District Director Kathleen Sterling.
The ruling by Judge K. Michael Kirkman frees Sterling from the most serious charge she faced ---- a felony count of bribe solicitation.
However, Kirkman let stand a misdemeanor count of wrongful influence against Sterling that is now set to move forward. If Sterling is convicted on that charge, she would be bounced from Tri-City's board under state elections law.
Standing in the hallway after the felony charge was dismissed, Sterling read from a prepared statement. "I will continue to perform my duties in a quality manner," she said, listing those duties as oversight of hospital management, ensuring fiscal solvency and assuring "optimum quality care for all of the residents of Tri-City."
Assistant District Attorney Leon Schorr said outside the courtroom that he wasn't disappointed in Kirkman's ruling.
"We respect his decision," Schorr said. "We had to put on the witnesses, have them testify, and let a judge decide. That's part of the process."
The felony charge stemmed from a May 26, 2010, dinner meeting at a Carlsbad steakhouse attended by hospital Directors Sterling, George Coulter, and RoseMarie Reno, as well as Tri-City Chief Operating Officer Casey Fatch.
The meeting, which participants testified was an attempt to "mend fences and build bridges" among board members who had not been getting along, resulted in Coulter and Reno accusing Sterling of offering a bribe.
The two testified that, during the meeting, Sterling offered future votes on unspecified board business if her fellow board members would make her vice chair of the hospital board, make her chair of a hospital subcommittee and rescind two censures against her passed in 2000 and 2001.
Though she did not testify on her own behalf at the hearing, Sterling said during a previous hospital board meeting that all of the accusations were fabricated.
During the hearing, Sterling's attorney, public defender Sherry Stone, successfully argued that nothing of value ever changed hands. She noted that no additional money or benefits were attached to leadership positions on the hospital board and also that no deal ever went beyond a few heated words at a restaurant.
Schorr tried to convince the judge that a felony solicitation charge was warranted because the law does not require that a bribe be consummated, or that it have a monetary value, in order for it to be illegal. He said it was solicitation of a bribe "as long as she (Sterling) finds that there is value in the things that she is asking for and as long as she has a belief that it has some value to her."
But Kirkman said that the value question was not his central concern. The judge noted that it was not Sterling who set up the dinner meeting and said that he did not believe she offered the exchange with any "corrupt intent" to exchange her votes for specific concessions.
"These were emotional comments made off the cuff in response to what was being said by others," Kirkman said.
He likened the dinner meeting comment to an exchange between Sterling and Reno at a April 28, 2010, hospital board meeting. At that meeting, Reno told Sterling: "It's unfortunate that you may have paid Judge Mills off beforehand."
The comment referred to Judge Richard E. Mills' decision to deny six restraining orders that hospital board members and Tri-City employees requested against Sterling.
"I don't believe that she (Sterling) had that intent (to trade votes) any more than I believe that Mrs. Reno truly meant what she said about Judge Mills," Kirkman said...
Legal tab against Tri-City trustee tops $100,000
District’s effort against board member is many-pronged
By Aaron Burgin
June 3, 2011
Oceanside — The Tri-City Healthcare District since March has spent more than $105,000 and employed nearly a dozen attorneys from three law firms in legal actions against one of its elected board members.
A judge in April denied the district’s request for a restraining order against the board member, Kathleen Sterling, who they say assaulted several hospital security guards at a Feb. 24 board meeting. The district is appealing.
Officials are suing Sterling for $100,000, alleging that her disruptive behavior has damaged the district’s reputation and embarrassed employees.
Sterling has filed counter actions, including a claim that the district is suing to silence her, and a suit to recoup her legal fees.
Legal and political experts said that while numbers are not out of the ordinary for the number and complexity of the litigation, the fact that a public district has taken these measures against an elected board member is extremely rare.
“In my 40 years in observing government, I haven’t seen anything like this,” said Bob Stern, the president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies and a longtime political observer. “Then again, the behavior that is alleged is unprecedented for an elected official.”
Sterling, a three-term board member who was re-elected in 2008, has frequently clashed with fellow board members, hospital administrators and staff. The district has censured her eight times for what officials call a pattern of disruptive behavior, including calling fellow board members “Nazis” and attempting to tape record closed-session meetings.
As part of her censures, Sterling has forfeited her $100 meeting stipend and must attend board meetings from a separate conference room via teleconference.
By seeking a restraining order, the hospital hopes to make Sterling stay at least 100 yards away from her colleagues and be banned from hospital property except in a medical emergency. She would have to attend meetings from another building, not just another room.
District officials said they have had to hire outside legal firms because of the number of issues they face with Sterling. They said they expect the tab to rise, but said it’s worth it to restore order to the board and keep the public safe.
“You can’t put a price on the public’s safety,” said board member Charlene Anderson, who compared Sterling to Jared Loughner, who seriously injured U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in a Jan. 8 mass shooting in Arizona. “Those people (in Arizona) would’ve gladly given $70,000 to stop him. I am that afraid something like that could come up with Sterling.”
Sterling said such allegations are ridiculous, part of ongoing district efforts to ostracize her for not being a rubber-stamp vote for CEO Larry Anderson.
“I feel I’ve been targeted because I ask questions and request supporting documents before I make an informed voting decision,” Sterling said. “But they are taking the district’s limited resources and shifting it into the lawyers to use the legal system as a bully pulpit and doing it taxpayers expense.”
Sterling’s attorney, Scott McMillan, called the district’s spending on the actions frivolous.
“What an abysmal use of taxpayer money,” McMillan said. “And for what? How much money are they going to spend before someone says enough is enough?”
McMillan said the spending is questionable because district voters have a mechanism to oust Sterling — a recall election — which no one has attempted. A recall election would cost the district $270,000 for a mail-in ballot or $860,000 for a precinct election. The district could not sponsor such an election, but district voters could.
“If they have a problem with Kathleen Sterling, they need to bring it to voters, not bring it to a judge,” McMillan said.
According to invoices provided from Procopio, the district’s contract legal firm, the firm billed the district $68,445 between March 1 and April 30, including more than $54,000 in attorneys fees for 166 hours of work and $14,000 in legal-related expenses. This does not include costs incurred during May, when the district filed its appeal. Five attorneys, who bill at $335 an hour, a clerk and a paralegal have worked on the restraining order for the firm.
The district hired Michael Curran of Encinitas-based Curran & Curran for the lawsuit. Curran billed the district $3,060 for work from Feb. 28 to March 3, but the district is expecting another bill in coming days. Curran bills at $360 an hour.
Sterling has filed a countermotion against the district that claims that the district legal actions are a “strategic lawsuit against public participation.”
Tri-City on April 21 hired a third firm to assist Curran on Sterling’s claim and other aspects of the dispute. Encino-based Horvitz and Levy has billed the district $33,559 for work performed from April 21 to May 30, Tri-City legal counsel Allison Borkheim said. Four attorneys have worked on the Sterling case, who bill the district from $290 to $460 an hour...