High Trauma

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Two years ago, Mintz entered into what he describes as a "plea bargain agreement" in one disciplinary proceeding, admitting that he charged an unreasonable fee in one case, failed to inform a second client of a delay in paying a provider, improperly transferred money from one account to another in a third case, and made an improper loan in a fourth. He received a year of probation.

Mintz says he can't discuss the grievance action beyond what is already on the record. In the current lawsuit, though, he has alleged that David Moskal was involved in "coercing" that grievance, as well as others that were dismissed.

Richard Levine is representing former Mintz clients in the interpleader lawsuit on a contingency basis. He's invested considerable time and expense in the case on the bare expectation that he might claim 40 percent of any funds recovered somewhere down the road — not a sure thing, by any means.

"I didn't yearn for the case," he admits. "But I think representing people of modest means is an important thing to do."

Attorneys for the medical providers have argued that Levine has a conflict of interest in the matter, since he previously represented Mintz in the negotiations over the money and has other business dealings with him. But Levine notes that he disclosed those ties. "My participation on behalf of the clients is a logical extension of my effort to settle the case," he says. "There's no other lawyer that would have that efficiency and knowledge about the case."

Recently the Spine and Injury Centers lawyers filed a request to seek punitive damages against Mintz, claiming that the attorney hasn't been able to name a single client he contacted before filing the lawsuit, ostensibly on their behalf. The lawsuit "was concocted by Mr. Mintz in concert with Mr. Levine and others as a pretext for ulterior purposes," the attorneys contend. But in court documents, Mintz has maintained that filing the lawsuit was the ethical thing to do, given the underlying disputes about the money. In fact, it was what members of the attorney regulation counsel advised him to do.

The disappearance of PIP coverage has put attorneys in the middle of a far-ranging squabble, not simply between clients and insurance companies, but also between doctors and their patients — and if they go to court to interplead the settlement funds, they can get sued themselves. But the real story, Mintz suggests, is the peril faced by people who no longer have any protection in an accident and may not be able to find adequate treatment or recover anything close to the losses suffered.

Mintz realizes that many of his clients aren't pleased to be caught up in another lawsuit, even though the law requires that he name them as parties in the case. At the same time, he adds, "the ones I've talked to have been incredibly supportive. They understand there's a problem here. In our medical system, the amount of a bill depends on who it's billed to — and that's really the problem with the system."

Joseph Ramos says the case has spurred his own interest in the law. He's been writing a series of articles in his newsletter on lawyers and health issues, including one titled "Testosterone and the Lawyer"; he's also going to law school in his spare time.

"If you can't beat 'em, join 'em," he says. "I see how the law is used. There are huge changes in medicine on the horizon. Attorneys drive a lot of these government decisions."

Although Ramos intends to keep practicing medicine, he says he wants to have an impact on the "political-medical arena" some day. "I also have an interest in medical malpractice," he adds. "I want to do medical and legal ethics cases."

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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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