The nursing home industry & trial lawyer alliance: Strange bedfellows and stranger ramifications

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While it appears to be snowing in hell, and pundits like me are scratching our heads over the newest BFFs; the trial lawyers and nursing home owners, it might be worth considering the winners and losers of this awkward Match.com marriage. 

And the loser is: Well, according to the Miami Herald and the lobbyists for the nursing home industry, this bill is aimed at one lawyer, one law firm: Jim Wilkes of Tampa-based Wilkes & McHugh, P.A. (The firm has won numerous seven, eight and (yes!) nine figure verdicts against the large corporate owners.) 

And the winners are: Of course David Ramba, who is the architect of the deal. But also those nursing home owners who have suffered the wrath of Wilkes’ legal and investigatory prowess stand as clear winners. And due to some coins tossed to the trial lawyers association (FJA), the lower value lawsuits will now be easier to set up and more likely to settle. In the end, it will be the big advertiser, high-volume, kinds of suits that are likely to flourish. While Wilkes may spend years working up a case, some law firms move them quickly and often for far fewer dollars. 

But wait a minute… 

The FJA is snubbing Wilkes in favor of the big advertisers, i.e. Morgan & Morgan? Admittedly and almost without dispute, yes. 

So what about the political ramifications? 

Ask Ellyn Bogdanoff what it means. She was, as many may recall, the last person to sponsor such a bill. The bill died in committee but that didn’t matter. Running against Maria Sachs in 2012, Bogdanoff was the prime target of the Florida Democratic Party, which pounded her with negative ads, like this one, and mailers all linked to her support of the nursing home industry’s agenda to strip rights away from the residents in their care. The ads culminated in Bogdanoff’s defeat. 

Go back further and ask now-Congresswoman Kathy Castor what it means.

During the 2000 election cycle, there were several high-profile state Senate races. One of them was the open Senate District 13 seat in Hillsborough. The Republican candidate was Victor Crist, while the Democrats nominated Kathy Castor. Castor was a popular county commissioner, but her law firm at the time represented Beverly Enterprises – Beverly was a nursing home conglomerate found guilty of Medicare fraud. The RPOF ran this spot, Castor subsequently lost the race by four points.

Just last week, Bruce Ranner, a Republican running for Illinois governor was impacted by the politics of nursing homes. Rauner had been enjoying a relatively smooth candidacy until recently. His campaign is now embroiled in a series of controversies, one of them related to ownership interests Rauner’s private equity firm had in Florida nursing homes. Those homes and the company that owned them, TransHealth, were found to be negligent in the deaths of at least three of people. Arlene Townsend of LakelandRev. Joseph Webb of Gainesville and Elvira Nunziata of Pinellas Park all died, all in nursing homes owned by TransHealth. Rauner’s investment firm owned Transhealth and bloggers, journalists and his opponents are naturally having a field day with it. One of Ranner’s GOP opponents, Kirk Dillard, accused him of “greed and indifference in how the nursing homes were run… People have died (in) nursing homes, because of the way Bruce Rauner and his friends have invested in these homes.”

Speaking of gubernatorial races…

Who would send such a toxic bill to Rick Scott’s desk? (As if the Governor doesn’t have enough troubles already.) 

The Senate sponsor of the you-will-see-this-in-a-Charlie-Crist-commercial-bill is none other than Rick Scott’s campaign chairman, Senator John Thrasher. 

So in the end, the real winners may be Charlie Crist and his actual boss, Mr. For the People himself. 

You can’t make this stuff up.

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Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.