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Morris withdraws claim against nursing home

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By Linda Ireland

County Attorney Dale Morris’ withdrew a small claims complaint against the Board of Directors of Sunrise Manor Nursing Home after testimony May 5.
Morris claimed the board refused to pay his legal fees after he represented the nursing home in a 2009 civil suit in LaRue Circuit Court. The suit was a payment dispute between the nursing home and a patient’s estate.
Morris said his legal fee was $1,500 and had been approved for payment by Administrator Daphne Loyall prior to the board signing a management agreement with Signature Healthcare.
Sunrise Manor’s attorney Jim Whitlow questioned Morris for about two hours in the May 5 trial, asking questions about a possible conflict of interest rather than debating whether the legal work had been done.
Morris said he was contacted by the accounting department at Sunrise Manor to represent them against the estate of a patient for payment of a bill.
The estate, according to documents filed in the LaRue Circuit County Attorney Dale Morris’ withdrew a small claims complaint against the Board of Directors of Sunrise Manor Nursing Home after testimony May 5.
Morris claimed the board refused to pay his legal fees after he represented the nursing home in a 2009 civil suit in LaRue Circuit Court. The suit was a payment dispute between the nursing home and a patient’s estate.
Morris said his legal fee was $1,500 and had been approved for payment by Administrator Daphne Loyall prior to the board signing a management agreement with Signature Healthcare.
Sunrise Manor’s attorney Jim Whitlow questioned Morris for about two hours in the May 5 trial, asking questions about a possible conflict of interest rather than debating whether the legal work had been done.
Morris said he was contacted by the accounting department at Sunrise Manor to represent them against the estate of a patient for payment of a bill.
The estate, according to documents filed in the LaRue Circuit Clerk’s office, refused to pay a cumulative bill of more than $20,000 to Sunrise Manor. The parties settled for $6,725.64 in November 2010 after Medicaid paid for part of the resident’s stay.
Morris said his original fee was $750 but due to the complexity of the case, the final figure was $1,500.
Morris said the case was settled in November 2010 but he had not received payment so he contacted the accounting department. He was informed that two board members declined to make payment.
He said, “no one had called and talked to him about it,” however, he contacted some of the board members individually about payment. He said he was unable to attend any of the Wednesday board meetings as that was the day he was in court.
Morris said he accepted the Sunrise Manor case as a private attorney, not as county attorney.
The matter was heard May 5 before LaRue District Judge C. Derek Reed, who offered to recuse himself as he was familiar with all parties in the case. Morris and Whitlow, who is also a member of the Sunrise Manor Board of Directors, agreed to let Reed hear the evidence.
During Morris’ testimony, Whitlow asked about another case. The two attorneys agreed that about a month after the civil suit was filed in Circuit Court, the guardian of the patient requested in District Court that the patient be declared incompetent. Morris, in his role as county attorney, was part of that suit.
Whitlow said Morris, acting as county attorney, should have stepped away from the first suit due to a conflict of interest. Morris, in effect, was involved in a lawsuit against a person who was declared incompetent a month later, he said.
In addition, a person involved in the second suit was suspected of Medicare or Medicaid fraud, Whitlow said. In his role as county attorney, Morris would have been expected to prosecute her.
Morris said he had no knowledge of suspected fraud and therefore, did not realize there was a potential conflict.
County Clerk Linda Carter, a member of the Board of Directors, was called to testify.
She said the board had taken no action on whether to pay Morris’ bill, but some members questioned whether Morris was acting as a private attorney or county attorney.
The board decided to write a letter to Morris asking him to attend a meeting and explain his bill, she said. Morris filed suit before the letter could be sent.
Whitlow also testified, saying that the board had not denied paying the bill, but if it were “voted today, it would be denied due to conflict of interest.”
After Whitlow testified, Morris asked for a meeting in the judge’s chambers. After a brief meeting, Morris withdrew his complaint, but said he still believed he did part of the work as “private counsel.”
Judge Reed dismissed the case.