WMC settlement conference focuses on laptop
The return of a laptop computer, iPad, and the scheduling of a hearing that might signal the end of the City and Borough of Wrangell’s lawsuit against former Wrangell Medical Center administrator Noel Rea and six former WMC board members was the topic of discussion during a status conference held Thursday, Nov. 8 in First District Court.
The hearing, which was originally slated to be a scheduling conference for a trial in the matter, was changed to a status hearing last week when attorneys for the borough, Rea and the six recalled board members agreed to work out a timeline for ending the case.
In an Oct. 25 press release, Borough Manager Tim Rooney said the case would be settled when all parties have signed an agreement spelling out terms that will see a return of funds to the city.
“Based on direction provided by the Borough Assembly on the afternoon of October 8, 2012, the City and Borough of Wrangell has accepted a settlement offer from former Wrangell Medical Center Administrator Noel Selle-Rea and six recalled members of the Wrangell Medical Center Board of Directors,” Rooney’s press release stated.
According to the terms of the agreement, the settlement will require the return of $250,000 to the City and Borough of Wrangell and dismissal of the borough’s lawsuit and Rea’s counterclaim entirely with prejudice, meaning the borough and WMC cannot seek further return of monies from Rea and the recalled board members and Rea cannot seek any further payments from the hospital.
What wasn’t mentioned in Rooney’s press release – but was discussed at the hearing – was the return of a laptop computer the borough claims is owned by the hospital. The laptop, which had previously been in the possession of Rea, is now being held under lock and key by the Anchorage-based forensics firm Digital Securus.
Bob Blasco, the attorney for the city, told the court that even though a settlement is nearly complete, the laptop and iPad are minor sticking points that need to be resolved before the agreement can be finalized.
“We are working on the settlement agreement and the protocol for the iPad and laptop being returned to the Wrangell Medical Center,” Blasco said.
Roberta Erwin, the attorney for Digital Securus, said the firm is not in possession of the iPad, but still had the laptop at the time of the Nov. 8 hearing – and that the company is waiting for the parties to come to an agreement before returning it.
“The laptop arrived unsolicited and from unidentified sources,” Erwin said. “The owner of the company, Glen Klinkhart, immediately taped it so it wouldn’t be opened or bothered and he put it in the safe. So, we have basically been waiting for all the parties involved to come to an agreement as to what to do with the laptop. No one has been able to agree so far, and there has been no court order. Mr. Klinkhart is a former police officer and does not want to break any chain of evidence, or have any problems with who should actually be in possession of it.”
Blasco, however, was direct in his remarks about where the laptop needs to be sent.
“From our perspective, there isn’t any question that the laptop needs to get back to the Wrangell Medical Center, and that Digital Securus doesn’t have the legal authority to withhold it from us,” Blasco said, adding, “It seems to me we would have to get a court order from you directing them to do that.”
David Shoupe, the attorney for Rea, added that he was in agreement with Blasco on those points – and he also reserved the right to apply for a court order for the return of the computer.
“I agree with what Mr. Blasco is saying and I think we’re very close to a settlement agreement right now,” Shoupe said. “I also think we’re very close to reaching a protocol, and I agree with Mr. Blasco that, to the extent we’re unable to dislodge the laptop from Digital Securus, we may jointly apply to your Honor for an order. Other than that, I suspect this will be settled within 10 days.”
Judge Carey scheduled the next status conference hearing for Monday, Nov. 19 at 4 p.m.