ORIGINAL: Both attorney Michael Walker's qualifications and the city of Clinton's ignorance of improperly coded ambulance calls were called into question during opening statements delivered Tuesday morning in the city's legal malpractice lawsuit.
The second day of the trial of the city of Clinton versus attorney Michael Walker and his firm Hopkins and Huebner started Tuesday morning with the city, through Chicago law firm Hannafan and Hannafan,
delivering an opening statement that explained to the jury why the city should be awarded $4.67 million.
The city is suing Walker and his law firm Hopkins and Huebner, which represented the city in the emergency medical services case that resulted in the city settling with whistleblower Timothy Schultheis and the U.S. Department of Justice for $4.5 million in 2010.
Walker’s firm was retained to represent the city’s interests in 2009 after Schultheis filed a complaint under the Federal False Claims Act that emergency medical calls handled by city ambulances were being improperly coded. By coding even routine calls as emergency calls, known as ALS calls, Schultheis claimed the city was able to receive higher reimbursement rates from Medicare and Medicaid. The city wants to recoup the costs of the settlement along with Walker's attorney fees and money paid to EMS expert Douglas Wolfberg, who the city hired for the EMS case.
Mike Hannafan told members of the jury they have two jobs as the case unfolds.
"If the Schultheis case went to trial and whether you think the city would have won and Schultheis would have lost, job one," Hannafan said. "Then you have to decide if Mr. Walker and his firm committed legal malpractice by not taking the case to trial and settling for too much too soon."
Hannafan forewarned the jury they would hear from the defense that the city's erroneous billing could have resulted in the city paying anywhere from $40 million to $100 million in fines under the worst case scenario. However, Hannafan argued, the suit could have ended in the city's favor, but Walker was not qualified to handle the case.