Department of Health uses law firm that defends agency in litigation.
The Candle requested a copy of the “investigative” contract that both the Governor’s office and the Department of Health (DOH) have referred to in response to media questions about the failures by the state to protect vulnerable residents in the care of DOH.
What The Candle received from DOH via an Inspection of Public Records Act request, reveals a shell game by public officials anxious to deflect criticism from their failure to guard against abuse, neglect and exploitation of persons with developmental disabilities.
While the Governor and her Secretary of the Department of Public Health (DOH) promised on March 20, 2023, there would be an “independent, third-party investigation to evaluate the DOH Developmental Disabilities Division (DDSD) and the DOH Division of Health Improvement (DHI) procedures to determine systemic flaws that allowed the alleged incidents to occur,” a copy of the contract the state has with the law firm GERMAN BURNETTE & ASSOCIATES paints a different story. (Click here for to read a copy of the contract.)
Under “Description of Work,” the contract, among other things, states that the law firm shall “serve as outside counsel” for the DOH, including working “closely with relevant Agency staff and any attorney(s) identified signed as liaison(s) within the Agency ’s Office of General Counsel” keeping DOH’s General Counsel “timely informed during all litigation stages about dates of settlement conferences, mediations and arbitrations, and hearing dates on all dispositive motions.”
The contract was signed in the Spring of last year – covering several years of legal representation and indicating DOH and the Governor are using a firm that was actually representing DOH at the time of the reported abuse.
Under this contract, any information discovered by the law firm investigating the events of the abuse, neglect and exploitation occurring in the cases the Governor described as “horrific,” could be withheld from the public by the agency invoking “attorney client privilege.”
This likely would occur if the investigation led to establishing liability of the DOH for any harm and damages to clients in the agency’s care – something that could expose the agency to significant financial penalties.
The Candle has requested through several emails and telephone calls to DOH and the Governor’s office an explanation as to how this contract with this particular law firm can produce a legitimately “independent” investigation that would expose the facts to the public and not be shaded to protect the agency from liability.
The Governor and the Secretary of the Department of Health are non-responsive.