Judge hears Lanese motions, sets trial date

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Judge hears Lanese motions, sets trial date

By KYLE PETERSON kpeterson@beaufortgazette.com 843-706-8147
Published Wednesday, September 14, 2011   |  810 Words  |  

Nearly two years after Brian Lanese sued Beaufort County for allegedly mishandling an October 2008 ambulance call after he was brutally beaten in his backyard, a trial date has been set: March 5, 2012.

What wasn't resolved at the Wednesday hearing, however, are the possible contempt-of-court citations hanging over Lanese, his wife Tracy and their attorney, Joel Bailey.

In preparing for trial, Bailey obtained personnel records showing multiple instances of alleged misconduct by the two paramedics who treated Lanese, according to court documents.

Two protective orders, signed by Circuit Court Judge Carmen Mullen in July and October 2010, forbid disclosing information from the EMTs' personnel files to anyone other than a "qualified person" -- the lawyers, their clients, court personnel and others directly involved the case.

An attorney defending the county, Robert Achurch, claims Bailey violated those orders May 11 when he filed an amended lawsuit describing the EMTs' alleged misbehavior.

Achurch moved May 26 to have Bailey and the Laneses held in contempt of court.

If the judge agrees, the Laneses could be banned from introducing some of their allegations during the trial; barred from amending their lawsuit and forced to proceed on the complaint filed in October 2009; or required to pay monetary fines, court documents state.

CONTEMPT MOTION

The only explanation for Bailey's handling of the case is intentional disregard for the protective orders, Achurch argued Wednesday.

Bailey's court filings include very specific allegations and, at times, direct quotes from the EMTs' personnel records. Achurch said that level of detail shouldn't be necessary in written filings.

The lawsuit also contains allegations against the EMTs that happened in 2009. Because that was after the Lanese incident, those allegations can't be used to prove the county should have fired the EMTs, county attorneys said.

Achurch also alleges that Bailey has added unsubstantiated claims, based on half-truths, to the lawsuit to incite media attention.

For instance, the suit alleges the county tried to influence a state agency's investigation into the Lanese incident by failing to reveal previous misconduct by the EMTs. But the investigator didn't ask for that information and said in a deposition that the county gave him everything he requested, according to the county's court filings.

For Achurch, those facts add up.

In documents filed Wednesday, he alleges that Bailey intentionally broke the protective order in an effort to bait the news media, poison the potential jury pool and pressure the county into a monetary settlement.

"The proposed amended complaint really read more like a press release," Achurch told the judge Wednesday.

Normally, an attorney worried about a biased jury could ask that the case be tried in a neighboring county. But in this case, Achurch said, a state law -- the S.C. Tort Claims Act -- restricts that option.

THE RESPONSE

Bailey denied any intent to leak confidential information, and he said being forced to defend himself against contempt charges is "offensive" and "disturbing."

"I do not try cases in the press," he told the judge.

He did admit to being verbose. Bailey said he was taught to plead that way when he began practicing law about 40 years ago, when many judges didn't allow opening statements.

Bailey also denied that his actions broke confidentiality.

The clerk of court -- to whom Bailey submitted his amended suit-- is certainly a "qualified person," under the protective orders, he said.

Allegations from 2009 were included in the suit because he is requesting an injunction to prevent future unlawful acts and change county EMS policy. He said that makes the allegations relevant even though they occurred after the Lanese beating.

NO RULING

Mullen said including allegations from 2009 makes it look as if Bailey tried to "dirty it up." But she did not rule on the motions.

She did, however, work out a schedule for the case with the attorneys.

The plaintiffs will designate expert witnesses by Oct. 26; the defendants by Dec. 16.

Mediation is to occur Feb. 3.

If mediation fails, the trial, which Mullen said she expects to last a week, will begin March 26.

Follow reporter Kyle Peterson at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.

Related Content:

EMS allegations fuel debate over open records, June 11, 2011


County attorney defends Freedom of Information decision, May 28, 2011

Lawsuit alleges county concealed paramedics' misconduct, May 21, 2011