Sam Morris / File photo
Sunday, Oct. 2, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Compared with some of the massive legal settlements Clark County has paid out, $65,000 might seem like chump change. But this settlement, related to University Medical Center’s denying a physician privileges to practice at the hospital, could foreshadow bigger payouts.
What’s the $65,000 for?
That’s what the county (if commissioners agree Tuesday) will pay to settle a small part of the case of Dr. Richard Chudacoff, who sued UMC in 2008.
The settlement was reached after a June decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the county hospital violated Chudacoff’s due-process rights by denying him clinical privileges. The court also ordered UMC to redact reports on Chudacoff it filed with the National Practitioner Data Bank.
Having his name in the database, his attorney said, prevents Chudacoff from being hired for clinical work almost anywhere in the United States.
The $65,000 covers only the cost of legal work related to Chudacoff’s appeal. District Court in Clark County, where the lawsuit was filed, has yet to rule on a request for the county to pay $433,000 in legal fees covering the bulk of the case.
Will these legal payouts end the case?
Not by a long shot, and probably not until the county pays tens of millions of dollars more to Chudacoff, an obstetrician-gynecologist who moved to Las Vegas from Texas in 2008. A court date will be set to consider how much in damages Chudacoff may be awarded.
And that might be in the millions of dollars?
That’s what Chudacoff’s attorney, Jacob Hafter, figures.
Hafter knows about such cases. Last summer, about a week before the retirement of then-UMC CEO Kathy Silver, Hafter won an $8.8 million award for anesthesiologist Charles Williams, who sued the hospital and Dr. John Ellerton, the hospital’s former chief of staff. Williams alleged his career had been ruined when UMC labeled him a drug user and suspended his privileges in 2005 without giving him due process.
Were commissioners, as UMC’s board, involved in that decision?
Yes. And it’s interesting to see how the commissioners questioned attorneys and witnesses during a closed-door discussion of the Chudacoff case in January 2009.
The court file contains a transcript of that meeting, which ended with Ellerton being scolded by Commissioner Sue Brager for name-calling.
But before that occurred, Commissioner Lawrence Weekly scolded Silver for putting the commission in a difficult situation: “I don’t understand this, Kathy, how we can even sit here today. You give us 10-minutes worth ... of a briefing for us to have to sit here and cast a vote to destroy someone’s life. And I don’t get it. I really don’t. I’m distraught about this.”
Before that, Weekly told Ellerton: “from here on out, as long as I’m on this board ... I’ll never support anything with you guys if this is how you guys are going to present cases to us. Your lawyer’s not even here (she left the meeting) and I don’t get it.”
Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani repeatedly asked that Chudacoff’s name be removed from the national databank. But it apparently wasn’t at the time because the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered that it be done in June.
So who did Ellerton call a name?
Chudacoff’s attorney, Hafter, said Ellerton referred to him using an obscenity.
It infuriated Brager: “Dr. Ellerton, that’s not going to get us anywhere, you calling him a name. Boy, that makes me want to do a reconsideration right this moment.”
Ellerton replied: “I apologize.”
Brager: “No, no apology — most unprofessional thing I’ve ever seen. That is just absolutely ...” Her next word was not caught by the recorder.