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JUDGE TO HOSPITAL: OPEN THE MEETINGS.

Byline: JIM SKEEN Staff Writer

PALMDALE -- A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ordered Antelope Valley Hospital officials to conduct any future actions regarding Palmdale Regional Medical Center in open meetings.

Judge Robert O'Brien ruled in favor of Palmdale officials, who filed a lawsuit accusing hospital officials of violating the state's open-meeting law by discussing the possibility of taking over their competitor's future hospital site through eminent domain in an August 2005 special meeting that was closed to the public and without the issue being properly listed on the agenda.

``Open meetings are the foundation of our public process,'' said Mayor Jim Ledford. ``I don't see how the court could have ruled any other way.''

The hospital district has filed a notice of its intent to seek a new trial, said Les Wong, the district's executive director.

``We disagree with the finding by the judge,'' Wong said. ``It's not supported by the evidence.''

The ruling directs the hospital district board to discuss pending litigation in closed session only if the discussion has been properly identified and described on the agenda; to make an audio recording of the closed sessions and maintain them for at least one year; and to deliver to the city the minutes for the Aug. 30, 2005, meeting.

The legal action was the second of two such lawsuits filed by the city alleging open-meeting law violations. In the first case, a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the hospital district, citing a Feb. 22 resolution in which the hospital district board said any actions that might be interpreted as an attempt at eminent domain are ``null and void.'' The city is appealing that ruling.

The legal battle centers on what city officials view as an attempt by the hospital district to block privately owned Universal Health Services from building a $100 million hospital complex at 38400 Tierra Subida.

The hospital district made a bid June 1, 2005, the day before Universal and city officials held a groundbreaking ceremony for the hospital complex, offering to buy the site for $9.3 million.

Hospital district officials said they are not pursuing eminent domain and that they are, in fact, willing to support the new hospital provided that UHS enters into a contract to provide services for poor people covered by the state's Medi-Cal program.

Hospital district officials have said they fear that a new private hospital would draw off patients with insurance, leaving Antelope Valley Hospital caring for a higher percentage of patients unable to pay for their treatment.

``They should take care of everybody, including Medi-Cal and the uninsured,'' Wong said.

Hospital district officials deny the city's allegations and have called the court actions frivolous and a waste of taxpayer money.

City officials said the hospital shouldn't be trying to screen out potential competitors.

``We need so much more in the Antelope Valley,'' Ledford said.

james.skeen@dailynews

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 3, 2006
Words:483
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