Judge hears all attorneys; case may change locations

Jan. 13, 2014 @ 09:41 PM

Hearings in the case of Dr. Clifford R. Wheeless III against Maria Parham Medical Center may leave Vance County because of a statutory rule for civil lawsuits that are declared exceptional.

For more than two years, the prominent Henderson orthopedic surgeon has been pursuing legal action against Maria Parham, where he continues an active association.

A gag-rule on the case prevents court officials from discussing publicly any details on specific damages or actions being sought.

Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood on Monday heard from all attorneys in the matter, asking them regarding the appointment of a special judge. The move invokes a state Supreme Court decision noted as “rule 2.1” governing assignment of complex business cases.

Hobgood arranged for the consultations among attorneys to be held in a separate courtroom. The court clerk for the case indicated that no decision on a mutually agreeable judge had been reached by the attorneys as of late in the court day.

If parties indicate no agreement shall be reached, Hobgood himself is to pick a judge. The process is conducted according to the state rules for assigning a special business court for complex cases that are declared exceptional.

The appointment is made as an additional effort to consolidate the hearing process and simplify potential negotiations by having one named judge involved with studying the details of the complex case for its further hearings.

If the appointed judge resides elsewhere in the state, all hearings would be conducted where that judge is located. Meanwhile all case records, including new documents filed, would be retained by the Vance County Superior Court Clerk’s Office.

Earlier decisions on the civil cases are also moving through the state appeals process through motions made by attorneys representing Maria Parham.

According to Arlene L. Velasquez-Colon, an attorney representing Wheeless, there is a “protective order” on the case preventing any participant, named party or representative from speaking on any case details.

Velasquez-Colon cited the order when declining comment on case details that include punitive damages and contract disputes that are part of two named associated cases listed on the Vance County Superior Court docket for motions this week.

According to case files, Wheeless disputed a February 2009 letter by hospital officials stating the doctor “violated the standards of medical care” in the treatment of a list of named patients.

Wheeless stated in response that all but one of those patients had been the subject of a peer review process in 2005, a complaint in which he had been “completely vindicated,” according to Wheeless.

Wheeless said in a written narrative that his outspoken nature on care standards of the hospital made him the target of retribution.

“The main point I would like to make is that I feel I have always had pertinent comments about medical care at Maria Parham, and I feel that my comments have been disregarded as political,” Wheeless wrote.

Wheeless added that actions on the part of the hospital were taken for political and retaliatory reasons. According to Wheeless, actions included malicious use of personal patient information as well, in violation of HIPPA medical records protections of several of his patients.

Case records, available briefly on Monday, include letters from numerous Wheeless patients extolling his professionalism and quality of care.

Vance County docket records note issues in the case include unfair trade practice, punitive damages, tortious interferences, civil conspiracy, constructive fraud, actual fraud and malicious prosecution.

Wheeless leads the Orthopaedic Specialists of North Carolina, also noted as OSNC, which recently announced Henderson office expansions to a new location at a 3,780-square foot facility at 200 Park View Drive.

OSNC has been operating in the Raleigh area for more than 10 years, and it operates locations in Oxford, Louisburg, Wake Forest and Chapel Hill.

Wheeless, an honors graduate of Duke University Medical Center in 1992, is noted for developing the “Wheeless Online Textbook of Orthopaedics,” and is a noted expert on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA.

He is the son of obstetrics and gynecology specialist, Dr. Clifford R. Wheeless Jr., after whom an annual lectureship series is named at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, Md.

Contact the writer at mfisher@hendersondispatch.com.