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.
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.
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