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The High Price of Secrecy


On April Fool’s Day we filed a FOIL request with Great Lakes Health System of Western New York, the entity formerly known as Newco, that was created by the Berger Commission to consolidate private not for profit Kaleida Health and Erie County Medical Center, a public benefit corporation.

Last Wednesday (May 20), we received some of the documents we requested on a disk. This was a gracious gesture, since at 25 cents a page, we would have had to pay over $30 for hard copies of the legal bills paid by Western New York Health System (WNYHS) and Kaleida Health to the law firm Garfunkel, Wild & Travis, P.C., of Great Neck, Long Island from November 1, 2007 through April 1, 2009. Click here to see all 128 pages of legal bills.

It appears the firm took in close to $400,000 handling various legal matters for the new entity, including around $165,000 representing Great Lakes Health in the Reese v. Daines case, which was brought seeking openness to board meetings and records for the press and public after Freedom of Information requests had been denied to this newspaper.

That’s the case they lost on September 12, 2008, when Hon Patrick H. NeMoyer ruled that WNYHS must “adhere to the requirements of the Open Meetings Law until such time as the hospital merger is completed and ECMCC is dissolved as a public benefit corporation.”

Rather than accept that ruling and abide by the law, the entity now known as Great Lakes Health decided to battle on in the courts, in the interest of darkness and secrecy, and wound up losing that too, unanimously, in the Appellate Division, Fourth Judicial Department of the Supreme Court of the State of New York in Rochester on May 1, 2009.

The only thing they got from the appeal was a reversal of Judge NeMoyer’s ruling that awarded attorney’s fees to Peter A. Reese, who argued the case against WNYHS. Had they simply paid Reese’s bill, it would have saved them a lot of money, judging by the $480/hour Garfunkel, Wild & Travis attorney Leonard M. Rosenberg charged them, for example.

If you download the pdf available above, check out invoice number 197668 dated January 31, 2009. Rosenberg made almost $15,000 for thirty hours of work that was laughed out of court. Lower members of the firm brought that one bill to $24,160.21. That amount is typical of the sums paid on a monthly basis to a law firm located on Long Island by the group that claims it is “unveiling a bold, new model of healthcare delivery for Western New York.

Isn’t it also nice to hear that partner Robert Andrew Wild was named Board Chair for United Way of Long Island according to the law firm’s Web site? I wonder how much he donated to the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County, after sucking so much money from the area in a failed attempt to keep the residents of our region completely in the dark about the future of our health care.

Meanwhile the matter of Reese v. Daines is headed for the textbooks. An updated civil practice law book published by Matthew Bender & Co., will be covering the successful Article 78 petition, so all New York State attorneys can learn from the case. Even the high priced ones in Great Neck.

  • incredulous

    They probably billed at $480/hr to make that disk. Check their next invoice. Oh and is there a billing fee attached to sending out the hourly billing?

  • Peter A Reese

    Q: Is there a billing fee attached to sending out the hourly billing?
    A: Yes, its OK for lawyers to bill for admin time.

    Let’s not forget, they got paid $165K for losing at every step of the proceeding. I’m out $305 for an index number and RJI. Final Score: GWT +$165K, Me -$305. So who actually won this one? Bobby Wild gets to head up the LI United Way. He gets the title shot outdoors on the ballpark and what do I get? A one-way ticket to Palooka-ville! (North Buffalo)