(Update: Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission rejects our complaint against Judge Hall, saying it “does not intervene in pending cases.”)
– Norfolk Circuit Chief Judge Mary Jane Hall Previously Co-Represented the Powerful Healthcare Nonprofit with Sentara’s Attorney
– A Separate Ethics Complaint Has Been Filed Against Attorney Jamie B. Martin
Checks and Balances Project (C&BP) has filed an ethics complaint with the Virginia Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission against Norfolk Circuit Court Chief Judge Mary Jane Hall. The complaint seeks a determination about Hall’s conduct, specifically her failure to report potential conflicts and recuse herself. Hall risks a finding of judicial misconduct for ruling on powerful Sentara Healthcare’s attempt to derail a rival’s creation of an open-heart surgery center.
In March 2019, Hall ruled that Virginia’s health commissioner acted properly by granting Sentara standing to challenge Chesapeake Regional Medical Center’s (CRMC) certificate of public need (COPN) application to open the open-heart surgery center.
C&BP’s complaint with Virginia’s Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission asks whether Hall should have disqualified herself from the case, because she had previously represented Sentara while a lawyer in private practice. Court records show Hall co-represented Sentara in a four-year legal fight to start a liver-transplant facility at its Norfolk hospital from 1996-2000.
Ethics Complaint Against Sentara Lawyer
Hall’s co-attorney in that case, Jamie B. Martin, appeared before Judge Hall to represent Sentara in the 2019 Chesapeake case. Judge Hall ruled in favor of Sentara and her former colleague.
A separate complaint has been filed with the Virginia State Bar against Ms Martin, Sentara’s attorney in the case against CRMC. Martin did not disclose that she and Hall had worked on Sentara’s behalf in the liver-transplant facility case.
The Virginia State Bar is an agency of the Virginia Supreme Court.
Hall Assigned Case by Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Lemons
As first reported by James C. Sherlock in Bacon’s Rebellion, Judge Hall was assigned the CRMC-Sentara case on July 31, 2018, by Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Lemons in place of judges on the First Judicial Circuit. Hall had the chance then to turn down the case because of her previous relationship with both Sentara and Martin. She chose not to.
C&BP’s Virginia State Bar complaint asks whether Martin had the ethical obligation to disclose her ties to Hall at the outset of the case against CRMC but did not.
The case against CRMC’s open-heart surgery unit shows the opaque nature of Virginia’s COPN process. The state health commissioner’s office determines during COPN which health care facilities should be allowed to open or expand.
Sentara fought CRMC’s application because it would dilute Sentara’s share of the heart surgery market in the Hampton Roads area.
The pro-Sentara ruling shows the reach of Sentara’s connections as it expands. Currently, it is seeking an $11.5-billion merger with North Carolina’s Cone Health.
C&BP has been investigating powerful Sentara Healthcare since November 2020. Sentara is a non-profit, tax-exempt healthcare and insurance giant. It has cash reserves of $6 billion, more than five times that of the Commonwealth of Virginia. To achieve its merger with Cone, Sentara is angling to keep the profitable EVMS Medical Group, from which Sentara draws low-cost, highly skilled medical residents, as well as a profitable caseload stream. Sentara CEO Howard Kern is also pushing legislators and Governor Ralph Northam to offload the operating costs of EVMS’s medical school onto Virginia taxpayers. This could happen by forcing EVMS to combine with Old Dominion University, a public institution with no experience running a medical school.
C&BP revealed the potential conflicts involving Hall and Martin in a two-part series on Feb. 19 and 22.
Sherlock of Bacon’s Rebellion wrote if Hall “can sit in judgment of her old client whose lead attorney was her old partner on a case representing that same client, there are no rules. She should have recused herself.”
We reached out to CRMC and its lawyers for comment. The hospital declined, saying they don’t comment on matters that are still in litigation. The case has been appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court. Chief Justice Lemons will have to weigh the conduct of the judge to whom he sent the case in 2018.
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Scott Peterson is executive director of Checks and Balances Project, an investigative watchdog blog holding government officials, lobbyists, and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP is provided by Renew American Prosperity and individual donors.