By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A much-anticipated contempt hearing against the State University of New York (SUNY) had barely begun on Tuesday when state Supreme Court Justice Johnny Lee Baynes adjourned the proceedings, at the request of two of the petitioners in the case who said Mayor Bill de Blasio was about to get involved.
The legal action will resume on Thursday, February 20, at 11 a.m. at 360 Adams Street.
The New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) and 1199SEIU health care workers requested the two-day adjournment because, they said, the Mayor’s office would be discussing possible plans for LICH with the community on Tuesday.
Susan Cameron, attorney for 1199, asked Justice Baynes in court for a delay in light of ongoing “good faith discussions” and added, “The Mayor’s office is today reaching out to community groups to discuss alternative outcomes” at Long Island College Hospital (LICH).
Attorneys for six community groups fighting SUNY’s attempts to shut down LICH, however, told Justice Baynes on Tuesday that they were fully prepared to push ahead with the contempt proceedings. Attorney Jim Walden of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, who represents the six groups, called the Mayor’s outreach “preliminary.”
“The people in this room have been working around the clock,” Walden said. “We want our day in court.” Regarding the Mayor’s Office, he added, “I talk only to my clients.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio became a top political contender in the Mayoral campaign last year in Brooklyn partly on the strength of his unyielding stand on saving LICH as a full-service hospital.
A source close to the situation told the Brooklyn Eagle on Tuesday that Mayor de Blasio has already met with several local elected officials and has discussed with them the various proposals for LICH already on the table. This source said that the Mayor would be contacting community groups on Tuesday, and “was not pushing for a full-service hospital.”
De Blasio spokesperson Phil Walzak, however, told the Eagle late Tuesday, “This is not true.”
“First, the Mayor has made clear from the time he entered into this fight as Public Advocate months ago that ensuring the maximum amount of quality healthcare for the community was his goal, and that's the only reason LICH was not closed completely six months ago,” Walzak said.
“Second, while ultimately the decisions rest with SUNY and the plaintiffs in court, we will continue to work with the community for a long-term solution that achieves the goals the mayor set out last year.”
Negotiations have been taking place between attorneys for SUNY and LICH supporters for days, but broke down in the early morning hours on Sunday.
As rumors percolated around Brooklyn late Wednesday, Attorney Walden told the Eagle, “It appears to me that someone is trying to instill panic that the negotiations are about to fail. In point of fact, they were within a whisper of succeeding. If they do fail, it will be a tremendous loss to the community, the doctors, the patients and people who cherish LICH.”
SUNY stands accused of a substantial number of violations in their rush to close the hospital, which is sitting on valuable Brownstone Brooklyn real estate. Among other alleged violations, SUNY ignored court orders issued by Justice Baynes and ended LICH’s residency and fellowship programs, shut down labor and delivery services, closed the psychiatric clinic, stopped scheduling medical procedures, and terminated ambulance delivery, jamming ERs across Brooklyn.
The contempt proceedings have already been delayed several times. Richard Seltzer, attorney for NYSNA, said holding off “a couple of days,” however, wasn’t a bad idea. “No one should be fearful of seeing if a resolution is possible here.”
SUNY attorney Ken Fisher joined with the unions in asking for an adjournment. After a deal folded “at 3:40 a.m. Sunday,” Fisher said, “various people involved began to have other conversations, and out of that came other proposals. There might be a solution.” Fisher said that Walden’s clients had only “just heard about this” development, and “they might reconsider” once they heard more.
Walden told Justice Baynes, “The community wants justice. We negotiated for a process. They want a cramdown, but we are not going to settle with a cramdown. We are ready, and our first witness is here.”
A show of hands showed that the majority of those attending Tuesday’s session were community members, rather than union members. In the end, however Justice Baynes granted the unions’ request for a two-day delay, and also extended the “standstill” agreement, fending off layoffs at LICH, until Thursday morning.
“I have two attorneys representing union members asking for adjournment. They believe there’s some type of resolution,” he said, granting the request.
Justice Baynes said the proceedings would continue next week, if necessary. “We’re going day to day on this” until it’s complete, he said. “It could be a week, two weeks, three weeks. My goal is to see justice done, and see everyone treated with dignity.”
After attorneys squabbled over details regarding witnesses, Justice Baynes reminded them that Thursday, February 20 “is the one year anniversary” of the LICH legal battle. “I presided in that case, and set aside a closure order after there was no open [SUNY] meeting. Attorneys come and go – I’ve been here a year.
Jill Furillo, executive director of NYSNA, said in a statement after Tuesday’s adjournment, “NYSNA's position remains the same as always: LICH must stay open for care and we must find a new operator. We must exhaust every avenue that would ensure continuity of care at LICH. We are concerned about any settlement that would close LICH for any period of time. We must not let LICH become another St. Vincent's."
Recently, the SUNY board heard the pitches of four developers competing in a second round of a much-disputed RFP (Request for Proposals) process.
Saying that SUNY’s original Request for Proposals (RFP) process was “rigged” to favor real estate developers over hospitals, LICH supporters have been calling for a new, transparent RFP that “responds to the health care needs of the community."