Your morning jolt: A documentary and the race for attorney general

A documentary of two whistleblowers who began a 2003 fax campaign to expose the finances of Phoebe Putney Hospital Systems down in south Georia had its formal debut in Atlanta on Wednesday evening.

“Do No Harm” focuses on two Albany locals, accountant Charles Rehberg and surgeon John Bagnato. Their faxes described the hospital system’s generous executive salary structure, extensive political and business connections, and its financial holdings, including a Cayman Islands account.

Phoebe Putney filed a civil suit against both whistle-blowers, alleging defamation, fraud and racketeering. Then the fax-senders were indicted and booked on criminal charges of harassment, aggravated assault and burglary.

More details can be found here. The question has been whether “Do No Harm” and its story would become part of Georgia’s political dialogue. The answer, it appears, is yes.

Much of the documentary’s focus is on Ken Hodges, then the Dougherty County prosecutor. Hodges is now running for attorney general in the Democratic primary – and has already received the endorsements of both former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young and former state Supreme Court chief justice Leah Sears.

In 2004, Hodges’ office used grand jury subpoenas to obtain phone records that led back to Rehberg and Bagnato, The district attorney passed the information to Phoebe Putney, permitting the hospital system to file its civil suit.

Hodges recused himself from the criminal prosecution of the fax-senders, but is currently the subject of a federal lawsuit that Rehberg has filed, charging that Hodges went after the Albany accountant as “a political favor” to Phoebe Putney.

“Do No Harm” had a showing in Albany on Tuesday. Wednesday night’s debut in Atlanta was sponsored by Georgia Watch, a liberal non-profit group that focuses on health care. Attendees included director and producer Rebecca Schanberg of Chicago, and Bagnato, one of the two whistleblowers.

The surgeon says he’s already contributed to one of Hodges’ Democratic competitors, Rob Teilhet, a state lawmaker. “I’ve talked to him. He seems to be aware of the hospital issue in a big way,” Bagnato said. “But I’ll be frankly honest with you. My support for him is mainly because of Hodges – it would be a dark day in Georgia if Hodges gets elected.”

Bagnato said he is also turned off by Attorney General Thurbert Baker, now a Democratic candidate for governor. “Thurbert Baker just looked the other way,” the surgeon said.

Baker has contributed to Hodges’ effort to replace him, but Baker spokesman Jeff Disantis said this morning that the check doesn’t constitute an endorsement.

Hodges has denied any wrongdoing in the episode, and previously has dismissed the documentary as propaganda. He declined comment this morning.

Atlanta mayoral candidate Mary Norwood on Wednesday evening launched a second, well-made TV ad – this one a 30-second tour of recent Atlanta crime scenes:

Lisa Borders, running No. 2 in the race, is off the air for the moment, which her campaign says is a strategic move. Presumably, she’s saving cash for a large push later this month. But you have to wonder whether ceding the airways to Norwood even for a moment will allow the Atlanta city councilwoman to pad her lead.

Sid Cottingham down in south Georgia points out this article in today’s Washington Post, about a U.S. Supreme Court hearing over whether Georgia lawyers from the group Children’s Rights and from Atlanta’s Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore law firm are due a multi-million dollar bonus awarded by a federal judge.

The cash is to be paid by the state, which means it comes out of your pocket. Here’s the gist:

The justices focused on a group of lawyers from a children’s rights group and a private law firm who won a transformation of the state of Georgia’s dysfunctional foster-care system. Their work on behalf of 3,000 children so impressed the federal judge who presided over the case that he awarded them a bonus of $4.5 million — on top of the $6 million in legal fees he told the state to pay.

It made for an animated debate on the skyrocketing cost of legal work, exorbitant salaries for lawyers, whether judges should grade the lawyers who come before them and whether Congress intended some sort of bonus for lawyers who take on uncertain and sometimes unpopular civil rights cases.

Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, analyzes the Georgia governor’s race this morning in his Crystal Ball blog. He concedes that former Gov. Roy Barnes is the front-runner on the Democratic side, but adds this:

Yet many observers wonder whether the arrogance Barnes showed in blowing his likely reelection is just temporarily under wraps. Barnes will be tested by several other candidates in the primary, such as state House Minority Leader Dubose Porter and Attorney General Thurbert Baker, and he’s not yet an absolute lock.

The Republicans have a rich field of potential nominees that has not sorted itself out–which also means they could choose unwisely or split asunder in the process.

The Peach State might be the site of an amazing Democratic comeback in 2010, but most state analysts still give the GOP the edge, with prominent Republican candidates such as Secretary of State Karen Handel, state Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, and Congressman Nathan Deal. No undisputed frontrunner has yet emerged on the GOP side.

Here’s a question: Can campaign contributions be used to bail out the candidate? This from today’s Rockdale News:

Conyers mayoral candidate Kathy Harvey faces forgery and theft by conversion felony charges in Newton County Superior Court stemming from a 2004 incident, according to court documents obtained by the News.

Harvey, who lived in Covington at the time of the incident, had allegedly taken a check for $6,060 issued from an insurance company for services rendered by the Above All Carpet Care company and had cashed it in for herself instead, forging the name of the carpet cleaning company.

While you ponder the above, consider these items found while perusing this morning’s ajc.com:

  • Atlanta budget forecast leaves little room for error.
  • Atlanta police to beef up campus police presence.
  • Fulton County budget is going to be ugly.
  • Atlanta city council begins scrutiny of Delta-airport lease.
  • Redan Road bridge to close for year.
  • Clayton County looks to Legislature to save bus service.
  • Parents speak out against cell phone tower at east Cobb County school.
  • Some opinion:

  • Atlanta unfairly blocks reservoirs.
  • Stalking victims live with constant fear.
  • And from beyond:

  • The Times of London: French troops were killed after Italy hushed up ‘bribes’ to Taliban.
  • NYT: Some see Iran as ready for nuclear deal.
  • WP: Stagnant prices prevent Social Security increase.
  • For instant updates, follow me on Twitter.

    25 comments Add your comment

    Wrong

    October 15th, 2009
    10:22 am

    That is fine! As long as http://www.notkasim.blogspot.com wins! Anybody but that crook!

    Jackalope

    October 15th, 2009
    10:26 am

    Norwood knocked it out of the park.

    THE REAL Shin Jasher

    October 15th, 2009
    10:26 am

    I’ll have to check out this documentary — it looks pretty interesting.

    I have to admit, I’m not paying much attention to the GA Governor’s race just yet, particularly because the Atlanta mayoral race is coming up so soon.

    Mary’s commercial is nice, but two things stuck out to me.

    1) The first two locations in her video aren’t where the crimes actually occurred.
    2) She said City Hall lost track of $100M dollars. After all these audits she’s called, shouldn’t she know where they money is? And if so, why isn’t she telling us?

    Jackalope

    October 15th, 2009
    10:34 am

    REAL Shin –

    - That IS where they happened.
    - City Hall = The Administration (city council members don’t really have that much power, dude)

    We’re all inside baseball people here. This ad isn’t for us – it’s for the 25% of voters that are undecided, and this ad should be very persuasive to them: not only is it dealing with crime, it ties accountability to the crime message.

    Lisa’s “strategic move” is that she DOESN’T have any MONEY.

    She will drop, Kasim will catch up, it will become a dog fight for 2nd place, and Norwood stays above the fray, with the most $ and with a base that is historically more likely to return to the polls in a run-off.

    John

    October 15th, 2009
    10:36 am

    Mary’s so tough on crime, huh… And she voted NOT to end the furloughs because….?

    GoOx

    October 15th, 2009
    10:38 am

    Ox is clearly the front runner in the GA Gov. race. Poll after poll have shown him with a double digit lead.

    Jackalope

    October 15th, 2009
    10:42 am

    John – If you’re actually looking for an answer it’s because you don’t raise people taxes because you LOST money. The furloughs were a mistake of the administration. TAX BILLS GET MAILED TODAY.

    THE REAL Shin Jasher

    October 15th, 2009
    10:43 am

    Ah, Jackalope. Spoken like a true campaign staffer. Quick, there’s donuts on the second floor!

    The Snark

    October 15th, 2009
    10:44 am

    Rehberg and Bagnato are crackpots. They were on to something at Phoebe Putney, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re a couple of vindictive nut cases.

    Reality

    October 15th, 2009
    10:49 am

    The reality is that Matt Towery has been persuaded by the Reed camp to stop reporting the actual numbers and take adjusted numbers allowed with the viable margin of error. The real poll numbers are the following:

    Mary 30%
    Lisa 27%
    Kasim 14%
    Other 4%
    Undecided 25%

    Reality!

    SWGAPolitics.com

    October 15th, 2009
    10:50 am

    Tom on SWGAPolitics.com has been covering this issue for quite a while. Go there and type in “Ken Hodges”. You might be surprised at what you see.

    Will Jones - Atlanta Jeffersonian Exegesis

    October 15th, 2009
    11:00 am

    Phoebe Putney’s management and Ken Hodges are corrupt; Rehberg and Bagnato were unjustly persecuted for trying to get some of Phoebe’s “action”; and, Superior Court Judge Harry Altman came through as a righteous man and threw out all the charges against them. But behind Bagnato is HCA’s wish to break into Phoebe’s unholy monopoly, and how clean are HCA’s “hands,” having bought up innumerable boards of local charity hospitals with “Golden Parachutes” to take-over healthcare and turn what was once charitable and noble into a for-profit grab for gold? http://www.againstcorruption.org/briberycase.asp?id=841 Perverse and corrupt HCA-scion Bill Frist didn’t come from nowhere. Corrupt state-board hospitals gouging citizens or corrupt corporate-board hospitals like HCA gouging citizens: six of one, half-dozen of the other.

    Jackalope

    October 15th, 2009
    11:05 am

    Sorry buddy, I work for no one but myself. I do care about taxes though.

    THE REAL Shin Jasher

    October 15th, 2009
    11:08 am

    So do I buddy. (The caring about taxes part, I mean.)

    hardrock

    October 15th, 2009
    11:09 am

    mr galloway….when false facts are repeated enough due to journalists assuming what is given them is true than they tend to take on a factual basis. Your comments about the do no harm crowd is just that sort of thing……these two individuals were critics(not whistleblowers) with self-serving motives(they wanted to open a amsurg center state regs wouldnt allow)….they declared a subrosa war on Phoebe and went to great lengths to not be identified…by the way what they did was a violation of FCC regulations. They hooked up with the king of torts Dick Scruggs to sue all non profits hospitals with a goal of making more money than the tobacco settlement….which translates into big bucks for these so called whistleblowers….btw they down play that the documentary was paid for by the class action atty cartel and that the original intent was to influence jury polls…judges etc and to cause neg PR for hospitals as a way to get them to settle vs going to court. They also downplay their patron saint dickie scruggs is now in the big house doing 5+years for judicial bribery.
    If you get the picture Phoebe was just defending itself and its mission to take care of anyone who enters her doors which it has done without failure since 1911 and has operated itself so it didnt become ”Grady South” with no burden local taxpayers. Phoebe did sue rehbergh but has never sued bagnato so your repeated facts are incorrect. As for ken hodges he has been a tough on crime adovocate without parrallel in south ga and you know that rubs folks who have done something outside the boundary of the laws the wrong way. By the way the only current outstanding suit is one brought by bagnato against phoebe claiming his constitutional right to free speech has been somehow chilled……guess he cant argue that one with a national documentary and countless public venues he choses regularly to spin his version of the truth., As for da hodges he does what all good public figures do when there is a conflct….he recuses himself…..an out of area da was assigned this case and he and only he presented the facts to the grand jury. not hodges…..the grand jury not any da votes to indict. ….It would be helful if ms schanberg might be a little more revealing about just how this project all came about and how it was funded…..you cannot go to the Kindling Group IRS required 990 and determine where the funding for her non profit gets its funds. You can find out more about phoebe on its website than most publicly traded companies and this is all done voluntarily. Mr Galloway..all of this offered because i know you must consider yourself a fair and balanced journalist and will seek to clarify your misstatements and misimpressions you have left on your readers.

    Jackalope

    October 15th, 2009
    11:11 am

    Reality – that’s delusional. Lisa isn’t on TV – she’s certainly not GAINING in the polls. Real number are probably more like:

    Mary:35
    Lisa:25
    Kasim:20
    Other:5
    Undecided:15

    THE REAL Shin Jasher

    October 15th, 2009
    11:42 am

    And yet, the order is pretty much the same, Jackinthebox.

    Ruth Jordan

    October 15th, 2009
    12:18 pm

    That Norwood commercial is very powerful. I wish her video from the Beautiful Restaurant could be broadcast. It’s long, but speaks volumes about the depth of her support.

    Stole from the peach pundit

    October 15th, 2009
    1:56 pm

    In August, Judge Oxendine was removed from the board of the Warm Springs facility — in a unanimous vote by the board’s executive committee.

    According to minutes of the meeting, obtained by 11alive News, Judge Oxendine was removed after he authorized payments to a political consultant with close ties to his son Insurance Commissioner and candidate for Governor John Oxendine.

    The minutes report that Oxendine and the consultant, Wayne Reece, quote “made attempts to conceal the perceived contract / agreement from the executive committee board members and the … Board of Trustees” of the rehabilitation facility.

    The consultant, Wayne Reece, was also on the facility’s board. He too was removed by unanimous vote.

    The paperwork says Reece’s consulting firm billed the Warm Springs facility as much as $392,000 before the board suspended payments.

    In a phone interview, board member Vicki Gordon told eleven alive news “we felt as a board it was important to take quick action, and decisive action, and that’s what we did.”

    Wayne Reece is a lobbyist registered with the state.

    According to the Reece and Associates website, his career dates to the successful gubernatorial campaign of Joe Frank Harris.
    Reece’s company writes a newsletter that, among other things, documents joint appearances with Reece and John Oxendine.

    Charles Rehberg

    October 15th, 2009
    4:00 pm

    Hardrock, you are correct that Phoebe never sued Bagnato, the suit was filed against me alone. Virtually ever other comment of yours is incorrect. Being anonymous is neither illegal nor wrong – just as posting here as “Hardrock” is perfectly legal, even thought I am quite sure your mama didn’t name you Hardrock. Anonymous criticism of public figures and institutions was critical to the success of the American Revolution, and is still protected free speech today.

    Second, Phoebe hired a Washington DC law firm to file a complaint against me for sending anonymous faxes, even soliciting an upper level FBI agent in Washington (Brian Lamkin) to pressure the FCC to act against me. I am sure this vindictive attempt to make the faxes a federal crime cost Phoebe a lot of money to pursue. The FCC did nothing, because as we all well know the faxes violated no law. Phoebe had the audacity to file this complaint listing as “victims” people who had never complained at all, like my Congressman, Sanford Bishop. Some on the list even requested that the faxes be sent to them. When Sandord Bishop learned of this, he released a statement that he had no complaint and welcomed all communication from his constituents. How did Phoebe get the names and private phone records of so called victims? From the illegally purchased information from Mr. Hodges illegal criminal investigation. Hodges even gave Phoebe the phone records of Congressman Bishop without the Congressman’s knowledge or consent.

    I have been told emphatically that the documentary was NOT funded by the attorneys involved in the class action litigation, but I will leave that issue to the producer and production company to address. I can also assure you that I had no part in funding it, nor did I even see it until it was completed. I have been told that both Phoebe and Mr. Hodges had the opportunity to be interviewed, but declined to do so. The assertion the film was designed to influence judges and jury pools is simply absurd, given the film spanned years beyond any expected litigation and was independently produced. As to Will Jones’ assertion regarding HCA, I do not for a minute believe that HCA has any interest whatsoever in this film, but I will leave the comments regarding Dr. Bagnato for him to address if he so chooses.

    I do consider Dick Scruggs a friend, and I am grateful for his loyal support while I was under attack. I was certainly shocked and disappointed to learn of his illegal actions that took place in another case. I never saw any questionable activities throughout the time I was working with him on the hospital litigation, nor has there been any allegation of such. Nevertheless, he accomplished much good in his career. He has admitted his guilt, accepted responsibility, and is repaying his debt to society.

    When Phoebe sued me in 2004 for $66 million claiming I defamed them, they were able to do so because Ken Hodges used illegal Grand Jury subpoenas (no Grand Jury was convened on the matter) to determine that I sent the anonymous faxes. There could not have even been a civil suit against me if Ken Hodges had not authorized an illegal investigation to help his Phoebe friends, and then allowed the files to be illegally sold to Phoebe. Ken Hodges’ unethical conduct caused me to be the victim of a baseless—and very expensive –civil suit. Of course, Phoebe was NOT defamed, which is why they later dropped their suit and had to settle my counterclaim on my terms.

    I personally believe the only laws broken were during the sham investigation spearheaded by Mr. Hodges. Surely, there must be law prohibiting issuance of Grand Jury subpoenas by a district attorney when there is no Grand Jury investigation, and when he knows no crime occurred. There is certainly a Georgia law which prohibits a D.A. from accepting private funds for an investigation–this was later acknowledged by Mr. Hodges’ chief investigator under deposition. And the oath of office requires a D.A. to act without favor in his duties. After Mr. Hodges “recused” himself, he still had an obligation as an officer of the court to prevent a miscarriage of justice—the knowing prosecution of crimes that he knew never occurred. Civil decency alone would dictate that he tell the appointed prosecutor and the court that no crime occurred, but Mr. Hodges, at a minimum, stood idle as we were falsely indicted not once, but THREE times. In my opinion, Ken Hodges is not fit to hold any elected office. He certainly has neither the judgement nor good character to serve as Georgia Attorney General.

    Rebecca Schanberg

    October 15th, 2009
    6:25 pm

    Mr. Rehberg is correct that the film was not funded by Scruggs, the class action team, or anyone connected to the events in Albany. In fact, we had little contact with Mr. Scruggs or his team during production, which lasted over four years. The film was funded by three foundations, The Irving Harris Foundation, The Lucius and Eva Eastman Foundation, and The Women in Film Finishing Fund. My family also supported the production. –Rebecca Schanberg, Producer/Director, Do No Harm

    Kenny Ramsbottom

    October 15th, 2009
    10:30 pm

    Mr. Rehberg, I wish you the best in your suit against Ken Hodges. Will you actively campaign on behalf of any candidate? If so, which one? It is pretty unbelievable that Ken Hodges actually had the gall to run for Attorney General given what he did. Why hasn’t the State Bar acted against him? I would think he should lose his law license.

    Ima Patriot

    October 19th, 2009
    11:54 am

    I’ve seen Do No Harm and can find no fault with any of the facts as presented. Phoebe is used to being the “800 pound Gorilla” and doing whatever they please, whenever they please. These two courageous men put themselves at risk professionally, and in my opinion, personally, to call attention to this gross mismanagement.

    Readers might also find it interesting to know that Ken Hodges’ wife is now a Phoebe employee-and that Mr. Hodges now works for a law firm that Phoebe has used for many years…Phoebe just keeps sharing the love, don’t they?

    Rita Ellis

    October 22nd, 2009
    12:29 am

    As one of the two women who informed Charles and John that the DA’s office was doing Phoebe a ‘favor’ by finding out who sent the factoids, I can tell you that the subsequent repercussions for both
    Beth McKenzie and me were OVERWHELMING.

    The child-abuse non-profit agency that we ran was attacked. In fact Ken Hodges’ former law partner Tommy Coleman told our Board Chairman (in church no less) that “we are going to bury you [Open Arms].” Phoebe and Ken set about to do it. They ran a series of negative press articles on the Executive Director that were false, but relentless. Phoebe reclaimed a building we used to do forensic interviews, Ken Hodges had an assistant at Sanford Bishop’s office call our government grant agencies to have them audit us without, I might add, any merit. Former United Way boss Wayne Mehearg told us that the reason the United Way was questioning us was, and I quote, “You can’t go up against the largest contributor to the United Way and come away unscathed.” Despite being one of the most proactive Child Abuse agencies who volunteered to run the Child Abuse Protocol team Beth McKenzie was suddenly subpoenaed to court by Loring Gray and told she would be held in contempt if she didn’t appear. Of course she appeared, and of course she had met all the requirements but NEVER has that happened in Child Abuse Protocol history before or since. Straight intimidation for having the nerve to tell the truth in a deposition about the DAs involvement.

    Charles and John were indicted 3 times (each time with Ken sitting in the hallway prepping the hapless DA replacement Kelly). He had to find an indictment for them – even if made up – because there was proof he’d used his power to get access to the phone records without a qualified legal reason (I believe that favors don’t meet many legal standards for searches etc.)

    It is MOST troubling that Hodges has enough chutzpah to pursue this most important of positions. If he gets in then most honest hard working Georgians will have to leave the state – anarchy will have arrived.

    Duke

    October 24th, 2009
    1:56 pm

    As Assistant D.A. in Dougherty County, Hodges had someone thrown into Southwestern State Hospital during the week of Christmas. This person had defeated his father as the defense attorney in a wrongful death lawsuit just a few years earlier.
    Strange that Hodges didn’t recuse himself from that case as a conflict of interest. Not only that but he smeared that person in the press and on TV.