Wrongful-firing verdict out
A Yuba County Superior Court judge has thrown out a $24 million jury verdict for a former Marysville heart surgeon in a wrongful termination suit.
In a six-page ruling, Judge Timothy Evans set aside the verdict and left open the possibility for a new trial between Dr. Michael Richman and Fremont-Rideout Health Group.
The decision follows a June verdict by Yuba County jurors, who believed Richman was wrongly fired in 2003 in retaliation for speaking out on patient care.
They awarded him $14 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages.
The decision disappointed John Lawrence, Richman's attorney. Richman plans to appeal, Lawrence said Tuesday.
“We are dismayed that the court would so cavalierly reject the considered verdict of a duly selected and representative jury of the community, particularly after 51/2 weeks of testimony,” said Lawrence.
“We are analyzing our options, but we will most assuredly do everything possible to preserve and maintain the verdict rendered by the jury,” Lawrence added.
The appeal will be filed soon, he said.
Attorneys for Fremont-Rideout declined to comment because the case is still in litigation.
Richman was hired in 2001 to lead the hospital's cardiac surgery department.
“There then commenced what can best be described as a union from Hades,” Evans wrote in his ruling.
Evans found that Richman was not forthcoming about his background during the hospital's hiring and interviewing process. Evans said Richman did not disclose his involvement in malpractice suits against him in Los Angeles and Kentucky.
“He also did not disclose a long use of cocaine and suspension of privileges in Kentucky,” Evans wrote.
Richman pleaded no-contest in 2003 in Yuba County to being under the influence of cocaine while possessing a loaded firearm. The conviction, a misdemeanor, was expunged in 2004 after he successfully completed a drug diversion program.
Evans found that the hospital was not thorough in investigating Richman's background and statements before hiring him.
The decision “suggested it (the hospital) was so anxious to start its cardiac program that anyone who was a board certified cardiologist would be acceptable,” Evans wrote.
Evans described a difficult relationship between Richman and the hospital.
By March 2002, the hospital chief executive officer considered terminating Richman even though his contract still had several years to run, Evans noted.
Richman was “regularly criticized for his lack of ‘collegiality' with the cardiologists,” Evans wrote.
During a Sept. 1 hearing to appeal the verdict, Randall Andrada, who represents Fremont-Rideout, argued Richman's behavior was fired for “petulant” and “boorish” behavior and said there was no evidence to support a punitive claim.
Lawrence countered by claiming the hospital attorneys committed “character assassination” against Richman, and added that the jury came to its own conclusion about Richman fairly.
Evans noted that the verdict sparked inches of paper requesting and opposing a new trial, judgment notwithstanding the verdict, over a million and a quarter dollars of attorney's fees, court costs and pretrial interest.”
The judge wrote that his “ruling will not be as protracted, and probably not as erudite.”
Appeal-Democrat reporter Daniel Witter can be reached at 749-4712. You may e-mail him at email@example.com.