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The High Price of Secrecy

How much Bob Gioia and friends paid downstate lawyers to keep you in the dark about regional healthcare

On April Fool’s Day, Artvoice filed a FOIL request with Great Lakes Health System of Western New York, the entity formerly known as Western New York Health System, formerly known as Newco, that was created by the Berger Commission to consolidate private not-for-profit Kaleida Health and Erie County Medical Center, a public benefit corporation.

Last Wednesday, May 20, we received some of the documents we requested on a disk. This was a gracious gesture, since at 25 cents a page, we would have had to pay over $30 for hard copies of the 128 pages of legal bills sent to Western New York Health System (WNYHS), the State University of New York (Attn: SUNYAB President John Simpson), and Kaleida Health by the law firm Garfunkel, Wild & Travis, P.C., of Great Neck, Long Island from November 1, 2007 through April 1, 2009. (View those legal bills here. [PDF/3.4MB])

It appears the firm took in close to $400,000 handling various legal matters for the new entity, including around $165,000 representing Great Lakes Health in the Reese v. Daines case, which was brought seeking openness to board meetings and records for the press and public after Freedom of Information requests made by this newspaper had been denied.

Garfunkel, Wild & Travis lost that case on September 12, 2008, when Judge Patrick H. NeMoyer ruled that WNYHS must “adhere to the requirements of the Open Meetings Law until such time as the hospital merger is completed and ECMCC is dissolved as a public benefit corporation.” To date, ECMCC remains a public benefit corporation.

Rather than accept that ruling and abide by the law, the entity now known as Great Lakes Health decided to battle on in the courts, in the interest of darkness and secrecy, and wound up losing that too, unanimously, in the Appellate Division, Fourth Judicial Department of the Supreme Court of the State of New York in Rochester on May 1, 2009.

The only thing they got from the appeal was a reversal of NeMoyer’s ruling that awarded attorney’s fees to Peter A. Reese, who argued the case against WNYHS. Had they simply paid Reese’s bill, it would have saved them a lot of money, judging by the $480/hour Garfunkel, Wild & Travis attorney Leonard M. Rosenberg charged them.

You can peruse the entire document at, but take this example: Invoice number 197668, dated January 31, 2009, shows that Rosenberg made almost $15,000 for 30 hours of work that was laughed out of court. Lower-echelon members of the firm brought that one bill to $24,160.21. That amount is typical of the sums paid on a monthly basis to a law firm located on Long Island by the group that claims it is “unveiling a bold, new model of healthcare delivery for Western New York.”

Isn’t it also nice to discover that partner Robert Andrew Wild was named board chair for United Way of Long Island, according to the law firm’s Web site? I wonder how much he donated to the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County, after sucking so much money from the area in a failed attempt to keep the residents of our region completely in the dark about the future of our healthcare.

On that note, the next meeting of the Board of Great Lakes Health is conveniently scheduled for 7:30am on Wednesday, June 10 at Children’s Hospital. The meeting is open to the public thanks to these legal victories, and everyone who can make it is encouraged to attend.

Better check back with us as the date approaches, though. These meetings have a way of getting cancelled or postponed, and now that the masses have been put on alert, there’s no telling if, when, or where it will take place. Meetings are still not listed on the Great Lakes Health Web site, unless you count the notice for the April 2, 2009 board meeting that has come and gone.

Meanwhile the matter of Reese v. Daines is headed for the textbooks. An updated civil practice law book published by Matthew Bender & Co. will be covering the successful Article 78 petition, so all New York State attorneys can learn from the case. Even the high priced ones in Great Neck.

buck quigley

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