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Suit filed over ex-inmate's bills

An attorney representing an Ocala hospital has accused Citrus County of borderline fraud for its refusal to pay the medical bills of a former jail inmate who was too poor to pay them himself.

Martin T. Cahill, a 41-year-old Beverly Hills man, racked up $152,973 in hospital bills after he was transported to Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala from Citrus Memorial Hospital on March 6.

Two days earlier, he had been admitted to Citrus Memorial after falling gravely ill with a heart condition while in the Citrus County Jail.

Citrus Memorial officials determined they weren't capable of treating him and sent him to Munroe Regional, where he remained for three weeks.

But as of March 5, the day before he was sent to Munroe Regional, Cahill was no longer an inmate at the Citrus jail, having been released from custody that afternoon, court records show.

The events of that day are the crux of a lawsuit filed by Munroe Regional against Citrus County and Corrections Corporation of America, the private company that operates the jail.

Munroe Regional attorney Robert Seymour has accused the county attorney's office of pressuring the public defender's office to get Cahill released from jail the day after he was admitted to Citrus Memorial. He alleges the county arranged Cahill's release to avoid being stuck with his bills.

"This is an obvious attempt to skirt the county's legal duty to provide Mr. Cahill with medical treatment, and borders on fraudulent action," Seymour wrote in a May 20 letter to the county and Corrections Corporation of America.

Cahill was arrested in October on charges of making excessive 911 calls and threatening police officers and firefighters after they responded to a car accident.

Cahill's car was on fire, and authorities said he threatened to kill any firefighters or police officers who attempted to put out the fire. He also threatened to kill himself and his mother. Seymour goes on to detail an unusual scenario during which Cahill went from being an inmate held without bail to a man released on his own recognizance.

He cites a March 5 telephone message left by assistant county attorney Michele Slingerland for Roy Stevenson, a public defender who was appointed to represent Cahill after his arrest in October.

Slingerland, according to Seymour's letter, told a receptionist at the public defender's office that Cahill had been hospitalized and "asked that they attempt to get Mr. Cahill released on his own recognizance."

On Monday, Slingerland vigorously denied making that request of Stevenson, an attorney she has known since her days as a prosecutor in State Attorney Brad King's office. She said she had called Stevenson as a courtesy, informing him that his client had been hospitalized the night before.

Cahill had been taken to Citrus Memorial's emergency room, where doctors hooked him to a ventilator and predicted he would live only another week.

Stevenson brought up the idea of having Cahill released in a followup phone conversation, Slingerland said. She said she warned him that the county wouldn't be responsible for Cahill's bills if he was no longer an inmate.

Florida law requires counties to pay for the hospital care of an inmate if the inmate, family members or an insurance provider cannot pay the bills.

"It's not appropriate for the county to request an ROR," or release on his own recognizance, Slingerland said. "We never agreed to the ROR, nor did we advocate for it."

The county would put itself in a legally precarious position if it pushed for the release of an inmate who then committed another crime in the community, she added.

Stevenson, however, remembered a different version of events. He did not recall actually speaking to Slingerland on March 5, but remembered that she had left a message "to see if anybody was interested in getting a bond" for Cahill.

He received an e-mail message at 1:18 p.m. from receptionist Steven Zay, who had taken the call from Slingerland. According to the e-mail, obtained by the Times, Slingerland told Zay that it was "not appropriate" for the county to ask for Cahill's release, but that "FYI _ would you like to attempt getting him an ROR?"

Slingerland also disputed Zay's characterization of her phone message, saying it implied that she was interested in pursuing Cahill's release. She said she was disappointed that Stevenson chose to include the e-mail about the message in Cahill's court file.

"I'm not pleased that the phone message was attached. It improperly suggests that the county acquiesced and agreed to something that we did not," she said.

Stevenson said he used the e-mail as proof that Cahill was in the hospital and deserved to be released from custody. It didn't matter to him what the county's motivations were regarding Cahill.

Later that afternoon, he and the State Attorney's Office filed a motion requesting Cahill's release. Circuit Judge Patricia Thomas granted the motion based on the theory that Cahill was "terminally ill, and expected by doctors to pass away within a week."

The next day, Cahill was sent to Munroe Regional in Ocala, where he stayed until the end of March, outlasting the expections of Citrus Memorial and Citrus County jail officials.

Cahill, who has since recuperated from his illness, pleaded no contest to the charges in April. County Judge Mark Yerman ordered mental health evaluations as part of his probation.

But Munroe Regional attorney Seymour, in his letter, cited patient records from Munroe that indicated Cahill was so ill at the time that he couldn't even consent to his own treatment.

"A person who lacks capacity cannot be released on (his own) recognizance," Seymour wrote.

_ Archana Pyati can be reached at 860-7309 or apyatisptimes.com.

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