The Gainesville Sun by Dara Kam/ The News Service of Florida
May 21, 2018
TALLAHASSEE — Lawyers for an embattled Broward County nursing home failed to show up Monday for a hearing they requested in a public-records legal tangle with the Florida Department of Health.
Attorneys for The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, which incurred the wrath of Gov. Rick Scott after elderly residents died following Hurricane Irma last year, had asked Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis to hold the department in contempt in a dispute over death certificates from across the state.
Lewis last month ordered the health department to turn over the death certificates, but lawyers for the nursing home are accusing the state of dragging its feet in producing the records. The lawyers are also challenging the nearly $6,000 price tag for the public documents. The state, meanwhile, maintains it isn’t obliged to turn over the records until it receives payment.
Lewis waited about 10 minutes Monday morning before asking Department of Health Assistant General Counsel Michael J. Williams to call attorneys for the nursing home, represented by Geoffrey Smith, Susan Smith and Stephen Burch, who have offices in Melbourne and Tallahassee. After Williams waited on hold for a short while, Lewis told him to hang up.
Lewis, who had originally scheduled 15 minutes for the hearing, said there appeared to be a “factual dispute” in the case that would require more time for both sides to present evidence.
“They say, ‘Oh this is ridiculous, it shouldn’t take you two months, it shouldn’t cost $6,000.’ I don’t know,” the judge told Williams. “I would suggest, if the plaintiffs were here, that they pay whatever it is and let you get going.”
Saying he would have decided later about “what’s a reasonable time” and “what’s a reasonable fee,” Lewis asked to reschedule a longer hearing to address the contempt issue.
Geoffrey Smith indicated Monday morning’s no-show was a mix-up.