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Emails Between COJ Worker and Volusia County Questioned

9:40 AM, Feb 29, 2012   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. --  It all started with a few emails.  The words were between a City of Jacksonville employee and an attorney who works for Volusia County.

The emails were about a worker's compensation case. It had nothing to do with the city of Jacksonville.  But that city employee was being paid by Volusia to work as a consultant on worker's comp cases.

At least one of the emails was sent while Mike Martin was at work for city of Jacksonville.

"I didn't know why I was copied on it," said James Spears, who should have never seen the emails.

An Orlando attorney, Spears does handle worker's compensation claims for first responders in Jacksonville and Volusia.
The email thread was inadvertently sent to him. 

When he read it, "Clearly something is not right here," Spears said.

What bothered Spears was the talk about a Jacksonville doctor, a Dr. Castello.  One he has used in workers comp cases before.  In one email, the Volusia county attorney asked Mike Martin his thoughts on "...hiring (Dr. Castello) as a permanent consultant to Volusia County on heart lung cases.  As soon as we have an incident, we send him a letter we will be consulting with him..."  The email goes on to note that if an attorney is going to use him and the "...judges love him, take him off the board."

"What they were planning on doing was sending out these phony engagement letters telling the doctors we are going to hire you on these claims so it would conflict us out from using those doctors," said Spears.

Basically, Spears claims the county hires his doctor to consult. So, that doctor can't testify for his case.  It creates a conflict of interest.

"I'd never seen anything like it. They're basically in my opinion, it looked like they were conspiring to eliminate doctors from providing evaluations for my clients," said Spears.

The email trail shows Martin wrote back to Volusia that he did not "recommend" using the doctor.  Volusia County's attorney replied, "I didn't mean actually use him.  If these guys are going to want to use him as a litigation whore, we could take him off the board by asking him to review the er records, and answer a few questions." 

"They want to get rid of him and any other doctor who could potentially help injured workers.  That's the only way you can read this, completely unethical from a legal standpoint as an attorney," said Spears.

Mike Martin declined to talk with us.  Volusia County officials also declined, including their risk manager which happens to be Charles Spencer the former risk manager for the city of Jacksonville.

"There wasn't anything in what Mike Martin said that raised an ethical consideration, and I'm not going to opine on what the Volusia County attorney said. He was not my concern," said Howard Maltz, General Counsel for the City of Jacksonville.

Maltz was the city's acting risk manager and Martin's boss when the email exchange happened.  Maltz said Martin has to follow an adjusters code of conduct.  In Florida, that code involves being fair and honest.

"I saw no violation of the adjusters code of conduct," said Maltz.

Maltz said the only concern he has right now is whether Martin was doing Volusia County work on City of Jacksonville time.
Maltz was alerted to Martin's job with Volusia when Spears sent out a letter to City of Jacksonville and Volusia officials, demanding an investigation.

Spears said he is still waiting to hear from both Volusia and Jacksonville.  "Not a single response and this letter was sent Dec. 1, 2011.  I have not received a phone call, an email, follow up letter, anything," said Spears.

Maltz said he did respond to the letter. "The response I took was denying that employee continued secondary employment."

Spears said more needs to be done.  "I do think an investigation needs to be done not only by county and the city internally, but also possibly by the Division of Insurance Fraud.  Because the way I see this, people are conspiring to eliminate physicians who treat injured firefighters, injured corrections officers and injured police officers."

First Coast News

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