Doctor testifies Mercedes given to woman caused split with medical partner

David Yates Oct. 14, 2009, 6:00am

A $40,000 Mercedes given to a female HealthSouth employee as a Christmas present has resulted in a fractured medical partnership, a doctor's termination, an FBI investigation and finally a civil trial in a Jefferson County court.

The trial of Dr. Brent Mainwaring vs. Dr. James King and HealthSouth Corp. began Tuesday, Oct. 14, in Judge Milton Shuffield's 136th District Court.

Dr. Mainwaring, who once partnered with Dr. King to provide radiological services to HealthSouth, sued King and their ruined partnership, Advanced Imaging Associates, a year after King was terminated for lying to federal investigators in 2005, court papers say.

The suit spawned counter suits and eventually came to envelop a third party, HealthSouth, which Mainwaring claimed unfairly terminated Dr. King and caused their partnership to dissolve.

According to court records and testimony, in 2003 King and Mainwaring bought Kim Kettle, a former Health South employee, a brand new Mercedes Benz for Christmas.

The gift sparked concern among HealthSouth officials, but after determining that the present was not an act of bribery, higher ups allowed her to keep the $40,000 car, even though such gifts are against company policy, court papers say.

"I was not aware of HealthSouth's gift policy at the time," Mainwaring testified, adding that Kettle was not in any kind of position of power to further his business and the present was simply meant as a gift for all her hard work.

A year later, the Federal Bureau of Investigation began investigating HealthSouth – which had been involved in a corporate accounting scandal a few years prior – and unearthed the $40,000 present to Kettle, testimony and court records show.

During the investigation, King and Kettle lied about the present. Kettle eventually came clean and King was suspended, testimony and court records show.

However, King refused to stay home "and disrupted HealthSouth constantly" while suspended, forcing the clinic to terminate his contract 30 days after the start of his suspension, said HealthSouth attorney James Old Jr.

"Dr. King lied," Old said during opening remarks. "We find situations every day where people get divorced from reality ... and think they are above the law."

Old added that a clause in King's contract gave HealthSouth the right to terminate him if he broke the rules.

An independent audit of HealthSouth determined Kettle, by law, was required to pay the doctors back for the car.

Kettle obtained a loan but, according to his testimony, Mainwaring did not want the money and instead took two sheets of paper as payment for the car.

Kettle was fired following the FBI investigation, court papers show.

In his suit, Mainwaring alleges HealthSouth and King are both responsible for destruction of Advanced Imaging Associates, costing him perhaps millions of dollars.

Jurors have been tasked to decide who, if anyone, is responsible.

Old believes both doctors willingly allowed their partnership to dissolve, saying Mainwaring and King never tried to repair their relationship with HealthSouth.

"Instead of trying to make things work between themselves they blame HealthSouth," Old said. "So what is this case really about then? Money. Their partnership is not as rosy as they are making it out to be."

The trial is expected to conclude sometime in late October.

Mainwaring is represented in part by local attorney Brain Sutton of the Sutton and Jacobs law firm.

King is represented by attorney Keith Kebodeaux.

Old is an attorney for the Germer Gertz law firm.

Case No. A176-613

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