Kanawha judge orders AG's office to turn over hospital merger documents

By Chris Dickerson | Oct 6, 2016

CHARLESTON – A Kanawha County judge has ordered West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s office to turn over almost 350 documents related to the merger of Huntington’s two largest hospitals.

On Oct. 4, Kanawha Circuit Judge Tod Kaufman said he’d give the AG’s office until noon on Oct. 8 to give him the documents about the merger of Cabell Huntington Hospital and St. Mary’s Medical Center. The documents include emails between Morrisey staff members and U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins about the merger.

Kaufman said he’d review the documents to decide if Morrisey must release any of them publicly. Kaufman said he’d likely rule on the issue next week.

Morrisey’s office, which looked into the merger before approving it in July 2015, had worked to keep the records secret since September 2015 when Steel of West Virginia sued Morrisey’s office for refusing to release the documents after it filed a Freedom of Information Act request. The company opposes the merger, saying it would drive up health care costs and lower the quality of care in the Tri-State area.

The AG’s office says the documents should be kept private because they occurred when it was looking into possible antitrust violations about the merger.

In a court document, Steel of West Virginia says an email from Morrisey’s office “raises questions about whether, at the same time the attorney general was negotiating a potential antitrust settlement with the hospitals, he simultaneously was having conversations about undermining that agreement and abolishing that very authority that authorized the investigation in the first place.”

A previous court order from Kaufman ordered Morrisey’s office to submit a sealed index of the 349 documents with a brief description of each.

Curtis Johnson, spokesman for the AG’s office, said the office stands by its decision to keep the documents private.

“The Attorney General’s Office has strong statutory authority,” he told The West Virginia Record. “Our office stands by its previously asserted exemptions and hope after the court’s review the judge will honor the rule of law.”

Doug Reynolds’ campaign said the matter is another instance of Morrisey trying to hide facts before the election.

“Is there anything corrupt pharmaceutical lobbyist Patrick Morrisey isn’t trying to hide, or keep from coming out before the election?” Reynolds campaign spokeswoman Lynette Maselli told The Record. “This isn’t the first time Patrick Morrisey has been exposed for hiding records.

“Just months ago, Morrisey was ordered by a Boone County Circuit Court Judge to turn over records for four out-of-state drug companies regarding shipments of prescription pills to West Virginia pharmacies. Now, pharmaceutical lobbyist Patrick Morrisey is trying to hide more of his shady deals from the public.

“It’s disgraceful, and this is why West Virginia will elect a new Attorney General in November.”

Morrisey’s campaign manager said Reynolds doesn’t understand the law.

“Doug Reynolds continues to show why he is unqualified to serve as Attorney General,” Kayla Berube told The Record. “If he were to read the code, it would help him understand that the Attorney General is actually prohibited under the law from releasing contents of an investigation.

“It's important to note that Morrisey has dramatically improved the transparency of the Office and has never lost any of the frivolous FOIA cases filed by the radical left and the Charleston Gazette, who have a contract with Reynolds and print his newspaper."

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