The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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October 17, 2013

Jury begins deliberating malpractice case

DAVENPORT — The city's legal malpractice case against the attorney who represented it in a 2009 Medicare fraud case is in the jury's hands.

After 13 days of trial, closing arguments concluded Thursday and the jury began deliberating whether attorney Michael Walker and his firm Hopkins and Huebner committed legal malpractice and caused the city damages as they represented the city against a federal lawsuit brought by former Clinton firefighter Timothy Schultheis. If jurors find Walker's negligence caused damages, they will be asked to award the city an amount they deem appropriate, with the city asking for $4.67 million.

Schultheis alleged in a whistleblower case, filed under seal in 2008, that the city knowingly submitted claims to Medicare and Medicaid that were falsely billed as advanced life support rather than basic life support in order to receive higher reimbursement rates. The case was unsealed in September 2009 after the federal government declined to intervene, prompting the city to hire Walker.

The city settled the case for $4.5 million in 2010, less than a year after Walker was retained to represent the city. Officials now allege the settlement was too much, too soon and a result of Walker's negligence.

Before the jury retired this morning, Walker's attorney Bob Waterman asked them to send a message to the city of Clinton by returning a verdict that Walker was not negligent.

Walker and his firm performed legal research, reviewed thousands of documents, retained an expert, obtained information from Schultheis' attorney, interviewed key city employees and presented a number of defenses, Waterman said. In response to the allegation that Walker was not qualified to take the Schultheis case at all, Waterman referred to Walker's experience with other federal statutes and hundreds of trials.

Walker advised the Clinton City Council to pursue a settlement because he felt the city faced a dangerous case and too many people knew what was going on and chose to do nothing, Waterman said. Former interim city attorney David Pillers also advised the city council to approve the settlement, Waterman mentioned. By not training its staff who submitted the bills to Medicare and Medicaid, the city was like an ostrich with its head stuck in the sand, Waterman said.

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