Jackson County

Jackson County's attorney apologizes, says retirees not likely to be allowed to opt out of settlement

SRHS ‘backdoor’ meeting questioned at supervisors’ meeting

Jackson County supervisors get an explanation from county attorney Billy Guice on his role in a secret Singing River Hospital System meeting.
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Jackson County supervisors get an explanation from county attorney Billy Guice on his role in a secret Singing River Hospital System meeting.

PASCAGOULA -- Jackson County Supervisor Randy Bosarge on Tuesday asked the county's attorney, Billy Guice, to explain why he was in a secret meeting with attorneys for Singing River Health System, hospital board trustee Scott Taylor, Chancery Judge Breland Hilburn and others last week.

The comings and goings from the meeting were filmed by two attorneys in the ongoing litigation against the county health system. Those attorneys, Earl Denham and Harvey Barton, have told the state Supreme Court the meeting was illegal, and complained Hilburn stopped all litigation in the hospital lawsuits shortly after he attended it.

Guice defended the meeting, saying Hilburn "held the meeting to let the parties know he was going to stay (halt) litigation and discuss the fairness hearing procedures in federal court."

However, after a lengthy explanation, he apologized and told the supervisors he understands that, in the future, he is to let the county know before he attends such a meeting or he's not to go.

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In an open meeting of the county Board of Supervisors, Guice said he believes the federal court will set a no-opt-out class for the settlement of the SRHS litigation so everyone is treated relatively equally.

This could mean those 200 retirees represented by Denham and Barton could not continue to fight the settlement in an effort to find out what happened at SRHS, which had appeared to be financially sound until it began failing in early 2014. It was after the hospital system announced $88 million in "accounting errors" that year that its pension plan was threatened.

Also at the Tuesday meeting, Bosarge said he received and accepted a letter of resignation from Taylor. He is now looking for a replacement for the relatively new hospital trustee, and called for resumes from people who live in District 5.

Taylor said in his letter he resigned because he felt threatened by angry conversations on social media that included mentioning burning down his house and a "call to arms" by retirees attorney Barton.

"It would be at the very least extremely irresponsible for me to remain in a position if there was even a remote possibility that some harm could come to my wife and children," he said in his resignation letter. "Nothing could justify that risk. I will not take that risk. I feel it necessary to extricate myself from such a position."

Taylor was just appointed to the trustees position last year by former Supervisor John McKay.

Bosarge did not entertain Taylor's reasons for resigning.

But the reference to burning down a house had to do with a metaphor on Barton's part about legal strategy.

On Facebook, in a post that was linked to the retiree site SRHS Hopes, Barton had complained of legal issues in the lawsuit against SRHS, unfair legal strategy, ethics and the secret Jan. 12 meeting Taylor attended. Besides being an SRHS trustee, Taylor is a lawyer.

Barton said, " Remember a few months back when I said that no one would even return my phone calls? Remember how I said that you guys could do your secret back room deals but try settling the case without me? Remember my exact quote? I do. I said "I will burn your house down" so if you think I have libeled you then sue me. Truth is a defense. I would not accuse someone of fraud if I couldn't prove it. I said it on the record. I relish the opportunity to start digging into these details of this meeting on Tuesday. I don't know where you learned your ethics but what you did was wrong on so many levels. You should be protecting the interest of the retirees. Until you start doing that stay out of our way."

A commenter on the SRHS Hopes site picked up on the "burning house" reference and, based on this comment by Taylor's wife, said it would be "fun" to burn his home.

Christiana Campbell Taylor said, "I am actually the one that called to Scott's attention the fact that one of the people commenting on SRHS Hopes was saying how it sounded fun to burn MY house down after Mr. Barton's rant against my husband that incited this mess, so if you feel the need to call someone a liar, that should be me."

Barton later posted that what he said was an analogy and he did not advocate violence against Taylor.

Barton wrote: "Scott knows I did not personally threaten him or his family."

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