Jackson County

SRHS fairness hearing soon; deadline to comment is Monday

Singing River Health System
Singing River Health System

PASCAGOULA -- Monday at midnight is the deadline for anyone wanting to file an objection or comment in federal court about the Singing River Health System pension settlement.

The fairness hearing is scheduled for May 16 in U.S. District Court in Gulfport before Judge Louis Guirola.

Attorneys for about a third of the 600 retirees receiving pensions are planning to file an extensive objection to the terms of the settlement. It will be a 35-page document, attorney Harvey Barton said, the maximum allowed in federal court. There are 3,100 in the whole settlement class.

"We are preparing a master objection," Barton told the Sun Herald. "It's a massive thing."

Barton is representing clients who oppose the settlement that sets up Jim Reeves and Matthew Mestayer, along with a Mobile law firm, as the counsel for the class. If it passes the fairness hearing, it will be a non-opt-out class.

"That means if the judge approves the settlement, the retirees will have to take it, whether they like it or not," Barton said.

On April 18, a half-dozen retirees begged the Jackson County Board of Supervisors to back out of the deal and rescind the Dec. 21 vote to support the settlement with $13.4 million in county tax dollars that help the county hospital system with indigent-care costs.

One objection his clients have, Barton said, is Supervisor Barry Cumbest voted on the issue, when his wife, a former nurse and SRHS employee, is a retirement-plan beneficiary. They told Cumbest this Monday at the Board of Supervisors meeting, but the board had no comment.

County supervisors also were scheduled this week to take bids on a turnaround firm to help the county manage the two hospitals under the system. Hiring a management firm was part of the county's demands under the settlement.

Barton and attorney Earl Denham have filed a document that takes exeption to what Jackson County supervisors did Dec. 21 and the pledge of tax money to solve the SRHS problems. They have also filed suits alleging fraud in the hospital system.

Judge James Bell is assigned to hear Barton's and Denham's cases in Circuit and Chancery courts. He replaces Judge Breland Hilburn, who recused himself from their cases only, but is presiding over other cases involving SRHS.

Barton said they also filed a motion with the state Supreme Court complaining the retirement plan administrator set up by Hilburn -- Steve Simpson -- is getting paid out of the retirement plan on Hilburn's orders with no public record of what he's getting paid.