October 24, 2009 - Challenge to hospital district ballot rejected
Paper: Press-Enterprise, The ( Riverside, CA)
Title: Challenge to hospital district ballot rejected
Date: October 24, 2009
Author: GAIL WESSON, THE PRESS-ENTERPRISE
The first of two lawsuits seeking changes to the ballot wording surrounding Measure P, which concerns the possible sale of Valley Health System assets for $162million, has been rejected.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Paulette Durand-Barkley on Friday denied the plaintiffs' request for an expedited hearing on the specific Measure P wording to go before voters Dec. 15.
The second lawsuit, a challenge over the opponents' statement that will accompany Measure P on sample ballots sent to voters , is scheduled to be heard Wednesday before a different judge. Plaintiffs in that case allege that the opponents did not follow Election Code.
The parties in both cases asked for expedited reviews of their claims, because Riverside County Registrar of Voters Barbara Dunmore is scheduled to send the ballots to the printer Thursday.
Durand-Barkley had concerns about due process, Michael J. Sarrao, one of the plaintiff's attorneys, said by phone. Typically, both sides would file legal papers leading to a hearing over a 20-to-25-day period, he said. "We were trying to condense it all in 10 days."
In the case heard Friday, registered voter Albert L. Lewis Jr. claimed the ballot language "is false and misleading" in recounting the background of the potential sale, according to court records.
The hospital district and board Chairman Dr. William Cherry were named as interested parties because of their roles in drafting the measure wording.
In the second case, Patrick Searl, former hospital board member, said he lent his name as plaintiff because the challenge must be filed by a registered voter in the district.
In the Searl case, Prime Healthcare Management Inc., Prime Healthcare Services Inc. and Save Hemet Valley Hospitals Inc. are named as interested parties for submitting the opposition argument for inclusion in sample ballots.
Earlier this month, the district board approved the sale of its assets, including hospitals in Hemet and Menifee, to Physicians for Healthy Hospitals, a group of about 130 doctors who practice in the hospital district. The financially troubled district is in bankruptcy.
Two other hospital organizations, Universal Health Services Inc. and Prime Healthcare Services Inc., also expressed interest in buying the district's assets.
Prime Healthcare Services owns two hospitals in San Bernardino County. The corporation also was interested in buying the district's assets in 2007.
The for-profit Prime health system owns 13 acute-care hospitals in California. An independent firm has rated the system as a "good value from a cost-perspective," said Sarrao, who works for Prime Healthcare Management.
Searl said of Prime's interest in the Hemet and Menifee hospitals, "It's about profit. It's not about community." Searl favors the sale to the local doctors group.
"These are local physicians stepping up to keep the hospitals open, keep the services available," he said.
The argument in opposition to Measure P claims that the physicians' group is "controlled by Hemet Community Medical Group (HCMG) and its owner," Dr. Kali Chaudhuri. The Searl lawsuit disputes that claim.
The physicians' group has denied similar criticism. Group spokesman Dr. Alex Denes said previously that Chaudhuri is among the member doctors.
"We think it's important for voters to know that he has a role," said Sarrao.
Chaudhuri's firm was hired in 1998 to manage the district. The board terminated its agreement with Chaudhuri in 2007 for missing revenue targets.
Record Number: 4313349
(c) Copyright, 2009, The Press-Enterprise