Raimondo calls on AG to investigate lawyer linked to potential $24M blunder

Gov. Gina Raimondo has requested that the Rhode Island Attorney General investigate a state lawyer who missed a deadline to appeal a Superior Court judge’s ruling, which might cost the taxpayers $24 million. (WJAR)

Gov. Gina Raimondo has requested that the Rhode Island Attorney General investigate a state lawyer who missed a deadline to appeal a Superior Court judge’s ruling, which might cost the taxpayers $24 million.

“Hopefully, we didn’t miss that opportunity,” Raimondo told reporters during a press conference Monday evening. “When the team told me last week, I said, ‘Get the appeal in. Go and ask the judge if we can file the appeal.’ That’s now before the court and we’ll see what happens. First and foremost, we’ve got to protect taxpayer money, and then also hold people accountable.”

Raimondo called the actions of Gregory Hazian an “inexcusable mistake” after the lawyer for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services allegedly deleted emails revolving around a missed opportunity to appeal a case against the state’s nursing homes.

“This kind of incompetence and misconduct can’t be tolerated and it won’t be tolerated,” the governor said. “This was a lawyer who was a relatively junior lawyer there and he did everything wrong. And that’s inexcusable.”

Eric Beane, who is the secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, shared similar sentiments.

“There’s no question that this was a significant lapse and we’re taking it very seriously,” Beane said. “This is the type of incident that should never happen. We will hold people accountable and we will take steps and we will take corrective action to make sure something like this never happens again.”

Raimondo said it’s possible criminal charges might be pursued against Hazian, who has since resigned. His supervisor has been placed on paid leave.

Hazian also was removed from the state’s master list of attorneys in January, and is not even permitted to practice law at this time. Beane said that’s another issue that future procedures will address.

“One of the actions we will be taking moving forward and that is to ensure we have at least two attorneys of record on every case we will assure that all the attorneys that provide legal support for EOHHS agencies are regularly attesting that they are members in good standing of the Rhode Island bar,” Beane said.

Nursing homes are suing the Health and Human Services Department for implementing a two percent rate cut, with the judge ruling in favor of nursing homes in May.

“The real disgrace is that the nursing homes had to go to court anyway to force the Department of Human Services to do what the general assembly told them to do,” Virginia Burke of Rhode Island Health Care Association said.

Meanwhile, Raimondo’s political opponents are seizing the news, which the Providence Journal first reported during the weekend, as campaign material.

“This is emblematic of the way this administration has operated -- incompetence. Pure and simple incompetence,” Brandon Bell, who is the chairman of the Rhode Island Republican Party, told NBC 10.

Rep. Patricia Serpa, a Democrat who oversees West Warwick, agreed.

“I hate to sound negative, but I’ve come to expect the worst from that agency,” Serpa said. “But then I keep saying to myself, ‘How much worse can it get?’ And this is huge.”

(NBC 10’s Jessica A. Botelho contributed to this report.)

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