Thursday, August 11, 2016

More Morton money evident in fight to limit lawsuits against nursing homes

Posted By on Thu, Aug 11, 2016 at 9:37 AM

MORE MORTON MONEY: Thousands more Michael Morton spending in new report on nursing home efforts to make it difficult to sue them for abuse and neglect of patients.
  • MORE MORTON MONEY: Thousands more Michael Morton spending in new report on nursing home efforts to make it difficult to sue them for abuse and neglect of patients.

The editorially right-wing Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported today on an amended filing by the Arkansas nursing home lobby on its $330,000 in contributions to the constitutional amendment campaign to discourage lawsuits against nursing homes and other medical providers.

The Arkansas Health Care Association, as a result of a complaint by Little Rock lawyer Matt Campbell, acceded to the dictates of state ethics law and provided disclosure on the sources of money it has pumped into the amendment campaign, styled Health Care Access for Arkansans. The amendment would cap the value of a human life — from children to the elderly — at $250,000, no matter how bad the abuse, neglect, malpractice, pain or suffering in a case of negligence. It would also cap attorney fees at a third of any recovery, plus expenses. This would spell a practical end to most lawsuits except for those with economic damages to demonstrate — something that children who've had wrong-side brain surgery and elderly with gaping bedsores and short life expectancies aren't able to prove.

The 19-page ethics filing by the nursing home lobby breaks down contributions, from member dues, to the contributions to the amendment campaign. More than 210 nursing homes contributed varying amounts, roughly from $1,000 to $2,500, to contributions so far, according to the filing. The association also reported contributions from 11 suppliers of goods to nursing homes of about $60,000 in aggregate.

Noted to supplement our cover story this week on Fort Smith nursing home magnate Michael Morton's driving force behind this campaign: He owns, or has an interest in, roughly 70 nursing homes, as well as some related businesses, according to a 2014 filing required on account of his membership on the state regulatory agency that approves permits for nursing homes. (Yes! The fox guarded the henhouse.) Thus you could roughly estimate, without matching his holdings point by point against the contribution list, about a third of the $270,000 itemized in the filing from nursing homes flowed from Morton's enterprises. We'd earlier reported that he'd sent $135,000 directly through his corporate holdings to the campaign. And this doesn't count the amount he's spread to legislators and, particularly, judges to influence a legal system more in keeping with his view of appropriate damages against abusive nursing homes.

I focus on Morton because of the scandalous case in which Judge Mike Maggio reduced a unanimous $5.2 million jury verdict against a Morton nursing home in Greenbrier to $1 million. It was at the root of a bribery conviction of Maggio, now on appeal. Maggio said originally that he did the deed in return for campaign contributions from Morton arranged by former Republican Sen. Gilbert Baker. (They deny wrongdoing and have not been charged.) The constitutional amendment will save money for Morton in the future — not only in legal defense fees and potential court judgments, but also in the need to lather up judicial candidates with money. With risk of lawsuit reduced to almost nil, the elections will be less significant.

PS — You perhaps noted my identification of the Democrat-Gazette as a right-wing newspaper. Consider it my editorial comment on the D-G news side practice of persistently identifying Matt Campbell as a left-winger or liberal or Democrat. "Left-leaning" was the description today. "Legal-leaning" is a more accurate description. Does ideology play a role in enforcement of the plain language of state ethics laws and a constitutional amendment on damage lawsuits? If so, why not apply labels to the nursing homes and the backers of this amendment. Suggestions: Conservative-leaning, Republican-leaning, greedy.

Side note: I guess nothing will come now of Campbell's ethics complaint. Under the Mulligan rule passed by the Arkansas legislature, it's just about impossible to find a party guilty of an ethics violation if they clean it up after getting called on it. The filing indicates Campbell was right; the nursing home was required by the size of its spending to register as a ballot question committee, in addition to the campaign committee. On that legal matter, the nursing homes' filing said this:
click to enlarge ethicsstatement.jpg

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