Houston Healthcare attorney argues for gag order in mammogram fraud case

An attorney representing Houston Healthcare Systems argued in court Tuesday that a gag order should be imposed in 21 lawsuits filed against the company in connection with allegations that a radiology technician wrongly entered negative results from mammograms.

The attorney, Jonathan Marigliano, also contended that a lawyer representing The Telegraph didn’t have a right to speak at the hearing that was held in Bibb County Superior Court.

Houston Healthcare, which operates Houston Medical Center and Perry Hospital, has maintained that public comments made by plaintiffs in the case and their attorney have prejudiced the court process. While the plaintiffs can discuss medical issues related to the case, the defendants can’t respond to the comments because of patient confidentiality rules.

Neal Graham, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, argued against the gag order, saying that information related to the case is “a matter of public health” and “of great concern to the citizens of both Houston and Bibb counties.”

Walter Bush, the attorney representing The Telegraph, argued in court Tuesday that the he did have “standing to appear, standing to object and standing to be heard” on the issue of whether a gag order should be considered in the case or if motions are filed to seal the court record.

Houston Healthcare attorneys have filed a motion asking a judge to seal the portion of the court record pertaining to settlement information.

Settlement offers in nine cases range from $4,500 to $10,000, according to a letter filed with an affidavit in the case.

Bush argued that evidence must be presented “on record” before a judge can issue a gag order or seal the court record.

Marigliano also contended that news reports about the case haven’t been accurate and have left out important facts.

He said news reports haven’t included information from investigations conducted by Perry police, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Georgia Department of Health and Human Services that determined the radiology technician involved with the wrong mammograms acted alone.

Graham countered that the FDA discovered a lack of supervision and accountability at Houston Healthcare.

Pertaining to sealing the court record, Marigliano maintained that the public doesn’t have a right to know the monetary amount of a settlement.

At the hearing, Marigliano requested additional time to file a response to court documents that Bush filed. Judge Edgar Ennis tabled the issues and gave the attorneys until Aug. 31 to file written arguments.

Marigliano and Graham also argued at the hearing about whether the cases should be moved to Houston County. Marigliano favors the move, saying it would be more convenient and that the only thing linking the case to Bibb County is that the former radiology technician, Rachael Rapraeger, lives in Bibb County. Rapraeger also is named in the civil lawsuits.

Graham said it’s premature to move the case until jury selection. If jurors say they can’t be unbiased, the case should move. He said it’s more likely that jurors in Bibb County would be fair.

The “white elephant in the room” is that judgments from Bibb juries tend to be higher than those in Houston County, Marigliano said.

He said waiting until jury selection to decide whether the case should be moved would delay the case going to trial due to logistical concerns.

Ennis reserved additional rulings in the case until after the lawyers have an opportunity to consider whether they would request that he be disqualified from the case because of his previous legal work relating to Houston Healthcare.

Besides the 21 lawsuits in Bibb County Superior Court, six have been filed in Bibb County State Court.

Rapraeger allegedly entered negative results for 1,289 mammograms that a radiologist had not reviewed. It was later determined that 10 of those patients actually had positive results.

Rapraeger has been indicted on 10 felony counts of computer forgery and 10 misdemeanor counts of reckless conduct.

The lawsuits in Bibb County Superior Court also are against Universal Radiology Consultants LLC and Staff Care Inc.

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.