The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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October 17, 2013

Closing statements begin in legal malpractice trial

DAVENPORT — After nearly 12 days of testimony, closing arguments started Wednesday in the city of Clinton’s legal malpractice suit against the attorney who represented it in a 2009 federal False Claims Act lawsuit.

The city is suing Michael Walker and his law firm Hopkins and Huebner, claiming they were negligent in their representation of the city in a lawsuit brought by former Clinton firefighter Timothy Schultheis that alleged the city knowingly submitted false ambulance claims to Medicare and Medicaid.

In 2010, the city settled that case for $4.5 million, which leaders now claim was too much, too soon and the result of Walker’s negligence. The city is seeking $4.67 million to recoup the costs of the settlement as well as attorney and expert fees.

Two questions need to be answered, the city’s attorney, Mike Hannafan, told jurors as he delivered his closing arguments Wednesday afternoon. First, would the city have won the False Claims Act case either by getting it dismissed or in trial if it had been represented by a competent attorney? Second, did Walker and his law firm commit legal malpractice?

The city’s False Claims Act case was Walker’s “guinea pig,” Hannafan said.

Walker has testified he had not heard of the False Claims Act before accepting the city’s case, practicing mainly in litigation, municipal law and insurance. Hannafan likened Walker’s work on the case to a family doctor trying to perform brain surgery.

“He saw a chance to make the big time and make a lot of money for his firm,” Hannafan said.

Hannafan criticized Walker’s handling of the case, using the testimony from the False Claims Act expert the city retained, Ronald Clark.

The defense’s legal expert, Guy Cook, wasn’t believable, Hannafan said. Cook was recently chastised by U.S. District Chief Judge Linda Reade for violating a rule that prevents attorneys or anyone working for them from contacting jurors after a case has been decided. Cook also, by his own admission, was not a False Claims Act expert and did not read the settlement agreement when forming his opinion that Walker was not negligent. Hannafan also contended that Cook was biased towards Walker and his attorney Bob Waterman because Cook had represented the senior partner from Walker’s firm in a case several years ago.

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