Albany weighs in on Scruggs’ guilt

Both men have a history in Albany, where they worked closely with “Phoebe Factoids” authors Charles Rehberg and Dr. John Bagnato to initiate a class-action lawsuit in 2004, contending Phoebe and more than 50 other nonprofit hospitals billed uninsured patients at unfair rates and improperly pursued them to collect on unpaid bills. The Factoids were a series of anonymous faxes that were critical of the hospital and its administration.

District Court Chief Judge W. Louis Sands in April 2005 dismissed Scruggs’ claims against Phoebe.

Phoebe officials forwarded a Wall Street Journal news alert about Scruggs’ plea to The Albany Herald on Friday.

“Now we understand,” Phoebe Director of Corporate Communications Jackie Ryan wrote in an attached message.

Hospital administration declined to comment further Wednesday.

“We’re not going to participate in that, because we don’t know Scruggs,” Public Relations Manager Valerie Benton said.

Though the Georgia class-action suits ultimately were dismissed, Scruggs attracted coverage by ABC’s “Primetime Live,” which included interviews of Bagnato and Rehberg, who also were named Money Magazine’s “Class Acts of 2004.” Phoebe was investigated that year by the Senate Finance Committee, whose membership then included Scruggs’ brother-in-law, Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss.

Rehberg could not be reached for comment, but Bagnato defended the class-action workings of Scruggs and Backstrom.

“Regardless of all that, it doesn’t diminish the validity of their efforts, as far as Phoebe and nonprofit hospitals,” Bagnato said. “I will stand by the effort that was made on behalf of the uninsured.”

Bagnato said he was unaware of the Scruggs law firm ever attempting to similarly influence the court system while litigating in Georgia.

Albany Herald (GA)