The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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October 18, 2013

Verdict clears attorney; city gets nothing

DAVENPORT —  A Scott County jury on Friday sided with attorney Michael Walker in the city of Clinton's legal malpractice suit against him, awarding the city nothing. Jurors spent 11 hours deliberating before returning a unanimous verdict that Walker and his law firm Hopkins and Huebner were not negligent when representing the city in a 2009 federal False Claims Act case.

Their decision that Walker wasn't negligent meant they did not move on to answer the two other blanks on the verdict form: Was the negligence of the defendants a cause of damages to the city of Clinton and what amount of damages the city sustained because of that negligence. Walker and his firm were retained to represent the city in 2009 after former Clinton firefighter Timothy Schultheis filed a complaint under the federal False Claims Act that the city was knowingly submitting false ambulance claims to Medicare and Medicaid in order to receive higher reimbursement rates. By coding basic life support instead of advanced life support the city was able to get more money from the federal programs, Schultheis alleged.

The case was settled in 2010 for $4.5 million to be paid to Schultheis and the U.S. Department of Justice in annual installments of $450,000 over the course of 10 years, with the money to come from the debt service levy. Schultheis and his attorneys receive 30 percent of the settlement.

The city filed a legal malpractice suit against Walker and his law firm Hopkins and Huebner in March 2012, alleging Walker's negligence caused the city to rush into a settlement. They sought $4.67 million to recoup the costs of the settlement and attorney and expert fees.

"All of us lawyers are extremely disappointed in the jury's verdict, of course," said Mike Hannafan, one of the attorneys the city retained for the legal malpractice case. "We all feel particularly badly for the city of Clinton, especially for the brave firefighters and paramedics."

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