Judge, attorneys meet on botched RI appeal of costly lawsuit


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – State lawyers met with a judge and then went to Rhode Island’s high court on Tuesday as they sought extra time to appeal a costly decision, after one of their own lawyers ignored the deadline.

The parties held “a confidential conference” with Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Lanphear on Tuesday afternoon, said Ashley O’Shea, a spokeswoman for the R.I. Executive Office of Health and Human Services. She declined to provide further information about what transpired.

A status conference on the case has been scheduled for June 8. (The hearing was originally scheduled for June 15, but the docket was updated Wednesday morning.)

The bungled litigation – which exploded into public view on Sunday – involves a lawsuit brought by 59 state nursing homes challenging a Medicaid rate cut by the R.I. Executive Office of Health and Human Services. A win for the nursing homes would cost $24 million through June 2019, officials estimate.

Lanphear ruled against the state in April, but officials say a lawyer for EOHHS, Gregory Hazian, was the only employee tracking the litigation and never informed his superiors about the status of the case or filed to appeal. It also emerged that Hazian had been removed from the list of lawyers authorized to practice in Rhode Island. He resigned Monday.

On Tuesday afternoon, EOHHS lawyers filed a motion with the Rhode Island Supreme Court to seek review of Lanphear’s decision – asking for, technically, a writ of certiorari – by the high court.

Retired R.I. Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank Williams explained that it’s unclear whether Lanphear has jurisdiction to hear the case at this point; if Hazian had appealed the judge’s April ruling on time, he would have done so before the Supreme Court, not Lanphear.

“Now it’s up for grabs as to whether or not [Lanphear] will consider the stay or the state has to go to the Supreme Court,” Williams told Eyewitness News. “My feeling is that they are going to wind up in the Supreme Court anyway on the motion to stay and whether or not the Supreme Court will hear the appeal.”

Williams described the circumstances as unusual. “I have seen blown deadlines, but not of this magnitude,” he said.

It’s unclear whether the fact of Hazian’s alleged dereliction of duty will convince a judge to give the state extra time, Williams said.

“I’m not sure that’s enough by itself,” he said. “I think what’s critical is the irreparable harm alleged by the state for not having the appeal and the effect on the public, the people.”

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

Susan Campbell (scampbell@wpri.com) is the Call 12 for Action and Target 12 consumer investigator for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.

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