C&BP Complaint Raises Unreported Potential Conflict of Interest, Showing Reach of Sentara Lobby
Since November 2020, we’ve been probing the reach and influence of Sentara Healthcare, the powerful, $6 billion health care conglomerate that enjoys nonprofit tax status and is pursuing a $11.5 billion merger with Cone Health of North Carolina. One element of Sentara’s influence is now, in effect, being examined by the Virginia State Bar, in response to our ethics complaint against its long-time outside counsel Jamie Baskerville Martin.
Here’s an excerpt from the Bar’s letter we received on March 4:
According to our earlier reporting, there was no public disclosure that Martin informed opposing counsel for Chesapeake Regional Medical Center that she and the presiding judge, Norfolk Circuit Court Chief Judge Mary Jane Hall, had co-represented Sentara in a previous case. During the four years Martin and Hall worked together as co-counsels, Sentara sought to add a liver-transplant unit at its hospital in Norfolk.
In the case in question, Judge Hall approved granting Sentara standing to challenge Chesapeake’s Certificate of Public Need (COPN) application to open an open-heart surgery center in March 2019. The case has been appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court.
Judge Hall was assigned the Chesapeake case by Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Lemons. The Virginia State Bar is an agency of the Virginia Supreme Court.
Federal Government Repeatedly Criticizes COPN
Sentara has sought to stifle competition through the COPN process, which has been criticized for years as rife with lobbying influence. The Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations all issued reports that criticized how health care companies use COPN as a cudgel to beat their competitors.
Jamie B. Martin is a partner at the powerhouse Richmond, Virginia, firm of Williams-Mullens. She is chair of its Health Care Section. Her recruitment to that firm from McCandlish Holton in 2016. Her official bio states, “For many health care clients, she effectively serves as outside general counsel, representing them in both strategic and day-to-day matters and managing the efforts of colleagues in a wide range of practice areas.”
New Information About Martin
Subsequent to C&BP’s filing of an ethics complaint against Martin, we learned that she also served as the “legal advisor” to a 2015 Virginia work group to reform the COPN process. During the work group on COPN reform, the public was never told of Martin’s long-time ties to Sentara. She was only described as its “non-voting advisor.” At the time of the group’s 2015 deliberations, Jamie Martin had spent at least 15 years working on Sentara’s cases, court records show.
We have forwarded this new information to the Virginia State Bar.
Will the bar give us an opportunity to review Martin’s written response should she decide to submit written comments? Or will it be dismissed without interviewing witnesses? We promise to keep our readers informed.
Do you have information to share? Send us a note through our confidential tip line.
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.
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