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September 30, 2013

UPDATE: Opening statements begin tomorrow in Walker trial

DAVENPORT — UPDATE: With a jury selected, the attorneys on both sides of the city of Clinton's legal malpractice suit will deliver opening statements Tuesday morning. 

Jury selection lasted until 2:45 p.m. Monday, the first day of the trial in the city's legal malpractice suit against Michael Walker and his law firm Hopkins and Huebner P.C.

Walker is the attorney who 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 made a claim that emergency medical calls handled by city ambulances were being improperly coded. By coding even routine calls as emergency calls, Schultheis claimed the city was able to receive higher reimbursement rates from Medicare and Medicaid.

The city alleges Walker negligently failed to properly and adequately analyze the case and is seeking to recoup the expenses of the settlement along with other fees, totaling $4.67 million.

Mayor Mark Vulich appeared for the city along with the attorneys it has hired for the legal malpractice suit from Chicago law firm, Hannafan and Hannafan, as well as Davenport firm Gosman, Tarbox and Associates. Walker was present with his attorneys from the Davenport firm Lane and Waterman. Judge Nancy Tabor is presiding over the case.

As the first day of the 12-day trial got under way at the Scott County courthouse in Davenport, attorneys representing both the city and Walker asked more than 25 potential jurors various questions in order to pare down the pool.

After questioning concluded, both the plaintiff and defendant chose four jurors apiece, creating a five-woman, three-man jury. 

The parties decided not to proceed with the opening statements after jury selection concluded because they wanted to present them in the same day and the city's is expected to last for one hour. 

Before they were selected, potential jurors were asked to answer   myriad of questions. Eight people had been excused by the time the lawyers stopped to make their selections. 

Jurors responded to questions from both plaintiff and defense attorneys about their experience with medical billing, the city of Clinton or other factors, such as their opinions on whistleblowers, that could affect their ability to be an impartial juror.

Mike Hannafan asked potential jurors if anyone would have trouble awarding the city the amount it seeks even if the city proves its case that Walker's failure to properly analyze the EMS billing case resulted in the city settling. 

"Is there anyone here who would hesitate if the evidence supported it?" he asked. "That's a lot of dough, so is there anyone here who would be reluctant or hesitate to award $4.67 million?"

One woman raised her hand. 

"I'm just of a mind that that's too much money," she said. "Greed comes to mind."

Following her admission, she was excused.

Bob Waterman, who is representing Walker, asked if anyone would have a problem ruling the other way. 

"Anyone have a problem if the city of Clinton does not prove their case, giving them zero, nothing?" he asked, to which no one raised a hand. 

Jurors also were asked if they had any knowledge of the legal malpractice suit or the underlying EMS case. While none of the potential jurors said they knew any details of either case, a couple said they had heard about it in passing.

One man, who formerly lived in Clinton, was taken outside of the courtroom to discuss with the attorneys and Tabor what he knew about a case the city had been involved in. After returning, he was excused. 

Another man was excused after he said he did not feel he could "sit in judgment of someone."  

The remaining five excused jurors were let go for various reasons, including scheduling conflicts.

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