Under oath, Rick Scott displays poor memory, penchant for parsing words

TALLAHASSEE

Rick Scott the candidate promises voters "the unvarnished truth."

But Rick Scott the witness offers little but murky testimony.

In a series of sworn depositions he gave in lawsuits against his former hospital company, Scott appears to be the polar opposite of the straight-talking Republican candidate for governor in his television ads.

Under oath, Scott displays a poor memory and a penchant for parsing words. He answers a lawyer's questions with questions. Smirking or shrugging his shoulders, his darting eyes survey the room in a video deposition in an antitrust case brought by Orlando Regional Healthcare System against Scott's former company Columbia/HCA.

In that 1995 lawsuit, Scott couldn't remember if a company news release quoted him correctly. In another case, filed by a Nevada company, Scott confirmed only his name before invoking 75 times his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

In a third case, involving a spat with a Texas doctor, Scott could not recall letters he signed, including one in which he raised concerns about illegal doctor payments.

When asked about an agreement he apparently struck with the El Paso doctor named in the suit, Scott, a former mergers-and-acquisitions attorney, stalled.

"I don't know what the def — your definition or anybody's definition of an 'agreement' is, or an 'offer' is, or 'promise' is," he said in the Jan. 16, 1997, deposition.

These days, on the campaign trail, Scott showcases the word "promise." He pledges to help turn the economy around and create jobs as he did in the 1990s when he led Columbia/HCA.

As the nation's largest and most aggressive hospital company, Columbia/HCA was a high-profile target of many lawsuits, which probably makes Scott the most deposed candidate for governor in recent memory. But it's those grueling, under-oath reams of testimony that provide new glimpses of the management style Scott could bring to the fourth-most populous state.

"These were civil lawsuits about business disputes that all involved trial lawyers looking for a payday for their clients," Scott spokesman Brian Burgess said. "Given those circumstances, Rick was not going to be overly cooperative to give another trial lawyer a payday."

A fourth deposition is shielded from public view. Scott gave it April 7, six days before filing for governor in a case a doctor filed against Solantic Urgent Care, a Jacksonville-based chain of walk-in clinics Scott founded.

The 2-year-old lawsuit was quickly settled after the deposition, which remains sealed under a confidentiality agreement.

The secrecy of the Solantic case became the grist of political attacks.

During the Republican primary, his GOP rival, Attorney General Bill McCollum, played up Scott's refusal to release the deposition. McCollum bankrolled two operatives to hound Scott throughout the state and chant through a bullhorn, "Release the deposition."

A McCollum supporter sued to obtain the video deposition but dropped the suit shortly after Scott won the Aug. 24 primary.

Democrat Alex Sink picked up where McCollum left off, highlighting the Solantic deposition in an attack ad.

Another spot from Sink notes that Scott in 2000 pleaded the Fifth Amendment 75 times in a contract dispute against Columbia/HCA, which soon paid a record $1.7 billion Medicare fraud fine -— albeit three years after Scott left the company. Both Sink ads accuse Scott of having something to hide.

Scott said in a debate last week that he pleaded the Fifth Amendment to stop a ''fishing expedition." That prompted Sink supporters and legal experts to suggest Scott misused the constitutional right against self incrimination, which is to be invoked when a person reasonably fears criminal prosecution.

Sink's memory is fuzzy as well and she has ducked a few questions, such as whether she supported President Barack Obama's health care plan. She said she also had one brief deposition in her past, when she worked at NationsBank in the early 1990s, but she can't remember the case.

The depositions of Scott offer one major insight into the candidate, who agreed with the statement that he supports "the idea of decentralizing authority."

But in doing so, it becomes unclear what Scott was in charge of at his company, or what he knew and when. "As a general rule," he testified in the Texas case, he doesn't file detailed notes on conversations, so he relies on the support of office staff and his own memory.

He doesn't remember much, such as signing letters at the center of the Texas case in which a physician successfully sued on the grounds that Columbia damaged his El Paso, Texas, medical practice by secretly luring away his partner.

"I sign letters all the time that I have not read," Scott said.

Jack Ayers, the plaintiff's lawyer, pressed Scott to describe what he meant in the letter by saying they had an "understanding."

"What is it?" Ayers asked.

"It's a letter," Scott said.

Ayers: "What does it say?"

Scott: "It says these words."

Ayers: "And what does that mean to you? If you were to characterize that?"

Scott: "I would characterize it as a letter with these words."

Ayers later told Scott that one Columbia employee swore under oath that Scott "made a commitment'' to pay the doctor $200,000.

"I have no recollection," Scott said. Ayers then displayed another signed letter in which Scott fretted that some payments the doctor wanted "would constitute illegal remuneration under Medicare and Medicaid laws, therefore I would not be able to accommodate your request."

Scott didn't remember that, either.

Ayers said he still remembers the deposition after all these years. So does John T. Cusack, a Chicago lawyer who represented Orlando Regional in its 1995 suit to stop Columbia/HCA from gobbling up too much of the Orlando market.

"I'm not sure what a 'market' is," Scott told him.

"You don't know what a market is?" Cusack asked, showing copies of a presentation Scott had given the year before that said Orlando was a "significant market."

Cusack: "Have you ever told anyone or showed anyone a document that said Orlando was one of Columbia/HCA Corporation's significant markets?"

Scott: "I don't know."

Scott also said he wasn't sure what the definition of "over-capacity," "corporate hospital law," "control," "profit' or "Central Florida'' was. He also asked what Cusack meant by describing Columbia/HCA as a "hospital chain."

Scott said he didn't remember or denied quotes attributed to him in the Miami Herald, New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and the Orlando Sentinel. Cusack then read a Columbia/HCA press release about a hospital deal that quoted Scott.

"Have I read those paragraphs correctly, sir?" Cusack asked. Scott: "I didn't listen that close."

Cusack: "Is the press release an accurate quote?"

Scott: "I... I don't know."

Marc Caputo can be reached at mcaputo@MiamiHerald.com.

Rick Scott on the stand

On Jan. 16, 1997, Rick Scott was deposed by attorney Jack Ayers in a case filed by Dr. Lee Schlichtmeier against his former partner, Dr. Ambrose Aboud, and Columbia/HCA for interfering in their partnership. Schlichtmeier won a $6.4 million judgment. Here is one excerpt from that deposition:

Attorney Jack Ayers: Did you consider that you had made an agreement with Dr. Aboud? Rick Scott: I don't know.

You don't know? I have no idea.

Why did you write the letter? I have no idea. I don't know if I did write the letter. ... I don't know what the intention is in 1991 … I don't know if I even said this. I don't know if I signed this. So I have no idea.

You don't know if you signed it? I don't believe I did.

Do you think it's your signature? It looks like my signature.

That would be an indication you signed it. Yes.

You're not trying to back up now and deny that you signed it, are you? I'm not saying I signed it.

You're not saying anything, are you? I have no idea if I signed this.

You can't give us any substantive testimony about that letter at all, can you? Well, I don't know what your definition of substantive is.

Read more excerpts from Rick Scott's depositions.

Under oath, Rick Scott displays poor memory, penchant for parsing words 10/18/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 19, 2010 6:34pm]

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