And whatever outrage Ramos might have expressed about the fees, it didn't stop him from continuing to do business with Mintz and the Lawyer Connection. In the fall of 2003, Mintz, Ramos, Walford and two other doctors formed a partnership and purchased, for just under $1.5 million, the Lakewood office building that now houses Mintz's law firm. A few months later, as his partnership with Walford was dissolving, Ramos agreed to let the Lawyer Connection keep certain funds that Spine and Injury Centers had been demanding from the client settlement funds. "These payments will be retained as additional payments...for advertising and for amounts owed on patients referred to Spine and Injury and its affiliates by The Lawyer Connection," Ramos wrote in a letter to Mintz. "I acknowledge that these are valid debts."
Yet the arrangement did have nuances beyond the typical ad-agency deal. One proposed settlement agreement, signed by the Mintzes but not Ramos and Walford, indicates that Spine and Injury Centers owed money not just for patients referred through the Lawyer Connection, but also those referred to the doctors by "David J. Mintz and associates." Stranger still, the agreement proposes that in the future, the law firm and Spine and Injury Centers should alternate in choosing lawyers for those who call 1-800-4-INJURY when the case involves something other than personal injury; for example, Mintz would pick one workers' comp lawyer to refer a caller to, and the doctors would get to pick the next one.
Mintz says that the "kickback" claims are designed to distract from the real nature of his dispute with Spine and Injury Centers, which had to do with the company's treatment and billing procedures. Like many attorneys, Mintz routinely negotiates discounts on medical bills for his clients — "I know just because they put a number on the page doesn't mean that's the fair value," he says — but the billing issues with Ramos and Walford were on an entirely different plane.
Correspondence between the two sides dating back to 2004 shows Mintz complaining of inadequate documentation and being accused of other motives for withholding the money. At the same time, Mintz was receiving letters from insurance adjusters questioning the validity of Spine and Injury Centers billings and whether its related companies were owned by licensed medical professionals as required under Colorado law. (One court case on that issue, in which Allstate was challenging the company's operation and structure, led to partial summary judgment in favor of the medical providers.)
In 2004, Ramos and Walford went their separate ways, and Ramos launched Mile High Medical Group with Nadler. By some accounts, this wasn't an entirely smooth transition. A bookkeeper named Cheryl Clark would later claim that records went missing for months; attorneys trying to settle cases and pay bills couldn't locate the providers who'd treated their clients or the charts that established what treatment was done. Clark claims to have been saddled with piles of boxes containing poorly sorted patient records heaped in the former Spine and Injury Centers office in Mintz's building.
Ramos says that he and his former partner sent letters notifying patients and attorneys of the changeover to make sure that patients didn't have their care interrupted. "Of all the attorneys we work with, we only had problems with two of them," he says.
One of them was David Mintz. "The records that you have supplied to me are in a total state of disarray," Mintz wrote in a letter to Ramos's billing service in the fall of 2004.
At that point, Mintz says now, he had little choice about his course of action. "I made the decision that I was going to resolve these cases and hold the money in trust, pending them working out whatever they had to work out," he recalls. "The clients couldn't wait for their money."
An auto accident in 2003 left Janice Martinez and her mother, Mary DePriest, in need of a lawyer and a few doctors. They sought legal representation from the Mintz Law Firm and rehabilitative treatment from Spine and Injury Centers.
The two women were decidedly underwhelmed by their subsequent medical care. "We had a lot of questions about it," Martinez says. "A lot of the procedures didn't seem up to par."
At the first Spine and Injury clinic they visited, some of the medical equipment seemed shabby or outdated and the staff was "rude and ugly," she adds. "They talked to us like we were retarded. We didn't see the same doctor much of the time."