High Trauma

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"My clients have records which will belie any claim of indebtedness to your client, unless your client believes he is entitled to some form of kickback," Ramos attorney Richard Cummins advised Mintz attorney Richard Levine (now representing Mintz's former clients) in one scathing missive. "Both of these parties are going to be in for what I am afraid is going to be a long and very painful encounter."

"I have very strong indications that certain of your clients and certain of their associates continue to spread their venom among the community of doctors, lawyers and clients against my client," Levine wrote in a similar vein. "Mr. Mintz's clients will decide for themselves whether to file grievances against your clients once they learn the full extent of self-referrals and billing practices through the time-consuming and expensive process of interpleader."

The rising acrimony didn't escape the notice of Mintz clients who were being treated by Ramos, Walford and Nadler. One of them, a registered nurse named Zahra Harrison, filed an affidavit alleging that Mintz had asked her to complain about Ramos to the state medical board and told her "that if I wanted to I could secretly record conversations between myself and Dr. Ramos."

Ethical guidelines for Colorado attorneys prohibit them from "surreptitious recording" of conversations or directing others to record. Mintz says he can't discuss a privileged conversation but denies ever directing a client to secretly tape someone. Harrison couldn't be reached for comment.

The medical group's bookkeeper also found herself caught in the maelstrom. Cheryl Clark, who ran a billing service and at one point was a salaried employee of Spine and Injury Centers, would later describe a series of cash-flow problems and declining revenues that seemed to stem from the elimination of PIP coverage in mid-2003. When Walford and Ramos ended their partnership a few months later, Clark was the one who ended up with boxes of patient files and requests from attorneys for records needed to settle clients' cases.

In addition to the battle with Mintz, "several insurance companies had begun investigating" Spine and Injury Centers, Clark noted in an affidavit. Ramos persuaded Clark to help him with the billing for his new venture, Mile High Medical Group — then instructed her to increase all billings by 25 percent, "so he could recoup any discount" the insurance companies or attorneys might demand from him. Clark eventually left Mile High, taking her billing records with her. She claims that Ramos and subsequent billing agents sought to obtain payments from some clients whose insurance companies had already paid their bills.

Ramos says it's not unusual for insurance companies to seek to slash doctor bills by claiming overcharges or unnecessary care. His falling-out with Clark left him unable to re-create all the bills his company had submitted to Mintz, he says, but now he's getting the information he needs through the litigation discovery process.

"It's been extremely tough on my business," he adds. "After a hundred thousand dollars in attorney fees, we've finally gotten to discovery. The other side has offered to settle twice, but this isn't about settlement to me. This is about principle and ethics."

Mintz says the dispute could have been resolved two years ago if the medical providers had only provided the documentation that he requested to support their bills — or, in the alternative, accepted the discounts he was prepared to offer on behalf of his clients.

"These same providers have accepted from my office substantially less than the amount billed on other clients," he says. "They basically refused to accept it from these clients. I really can't understand how you would spend more money fighting over the account than is in the account."

Few people in Colorado have ever heard of David Moskal. In Minnesota legal circles, though, Moskal is known for several remarkable achievements, including the fastest disbarment in the state's history.

Things happen around Moskal. The ex-attorney has only been a resident of Colorado a short time, but he's already played a supporting role in the Spine and Injury Centers litigation, having worked for people on both sides of the dispute.

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast

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