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Hospital offered litigant money to end appeal

June 25, 2007|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN

A former litigant in the fight against Washington County Hospital's proposed move was prepared to accept a $30,000 offer to end his involvement in the suit.

The offer was made to J. Michael Nye in September 2006 by a local attorney on behalf of the Washington County Hospital Endowment Fund, according to a document revealed Monday in Washington County District Court. The $30,000 is roughly the amount Nye says was paid in attorney fees and other costs during the ongoing legal battle.

A Washington County Circuit Court decision in November 2006 upheld a December 2005 decision by the Washington County Board of Zoning Appeals that permitted zoning variances to the Robinwood Medical Center property that would have allowed construction of the hospital to go forward.

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Opponents of the new hospital appealed the zoning board's decision to circuit court.

There are five litigants still active in that appeal: Robert and Sally Hatch, Gordon and Janet Bartels, and Chuck Hongell. Nye, who was the public face of the fight, and two others originally were involved.

The Court of Special Appeals heard the case earlier this month."(Nye) was getting tired, and he approached me and wanted to know how the hospital would feel if he could bring the whole thing to an end in exchange for covering his costs, meaning legal fees," said Michael J. Schaefer, who represents Washington County Hospital.Schaefer said in a phone interview Monday that Nye agreed to the terms in the document and agreed to accept $30,000 for ending his involvement in the appeal. Nye also agreed to convince the remaining litigants to drop out of the legal battle, Schaefer said.

"No money was paid," he said. "He was not able to bring it home."

Nye was in District Court on Monday as the plaintiff in a lawsuit against the five litigants still active in the court battle to prevent the hospital from moving near Robinwood Medical Center.

During that hearing, Nye described the offer to settle with the hospital as an "exploratative discussion," which he said he was not interested in.

"I can tell you that we had an agreement in principle, but didn't have an opportunity to really explore that because the idea of not doing the appeal died," Nye said in a phone interview Monday evening.Nye said the agreement was discussed to reimburse everyone who contributed to fees associated with the appeal. He said he only discussed settling with hospital officials when he was sure the hospital move could not be stopped and legal fees exceeded their budget.

"I don't look to gain anything," he said. "It's just to cover our out-of-pocket expenses."Schaefer said offering $30,000 to cover the group's legal fees was a small price to pay to move forward with the $255 million facility.

"It was kind of a slam dunk if a deal could be made and it could be dropped," Schaefer said, referring to the appeal. "It was worth covering his expenses to us."

Schaefer said that at the time he was confident that if Nye dropped out, the others would follow.

According to the document, the agreement was that Nye would be paid $30,000 within 10 days after any eligible party could file an appeal. The document also includes a confidentiality agreement aimed at keeping the letter private.

It was only to be shared with attorneys and accountants representing Nye and the Endowment Fund, and the organization's executive staff and board of directors. As part of the agreement, it could also be shared as required by the court.

Schaefer said that if the five remaining litigants dropped their appeals now, Nye would not receive any money.

"It's been put to rest," he said.

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