Anatomy of a Litigation Bully

Sovereign v. Buschel

 

by M. David Meagher, Esq. © 2018

This article is written with the permission of Leonard L. Buschel, the target of Dual Diagnosis Treatment Center, Inc., better known as Sovereign Health, a true litigation bully.1 Leonard was a target, not a victim because he had the courage to stand up to the pressure of Tonmoy Sharma and Sovereign filing a frivolous law suit against him and Writers In Treatment, Inc.

The Addiction/Recovery eBulletin, is a publication that provides third party news and announcements to the addiction and recovery field. This information is important to those of us who are providing recovery services. The articles can be educational, thought provoking and in some instances provocative. Like all forms of mass communication on the internet, the reader is free to make up his or her own mind about the content and the trustworthiness of the actual author of the article.

These third party publications of articles that discuss what is going on in the addiction and recovery field are vital. Knowing when a program may have diverted from ethical or legal standards is highly relevant when you are making a decision about where to refer to. This balance is needed to offset the onslaught of press releases, marketing materials and salespeople who are appearing at conferences weekly.

Apparently Mr. Sharma, the CEO of Sovereign did not like the truth about his loss of a medical license in Great Briton for fraudulently conducting drug tests on homeless, nor the fact that he did not have a Ph.D., as he told people.2 Nor did he like the fact that Sovereign was under investigation for violating state law by providing addiction treatment in unlicensed houses.3

This lawsuit was a cowardly act by desperate people eager to hide their misconduct. The obvious goal of the lawsuit was to punish Leonard while serving as a warning to others that Sovereign was run by vindictive and petty little people willing waste untold sums of money to intimidate others. This lawsuit was known to be frivolous by Sovereign when it was filed.

The Background of the suit:

Litigation Bully tactic number 1

On August 25, 2015, the eBulletin was published containing an article from the Orange County Register newspaper. Prior to filing their lawsuit, Sovereign demanded the eBulletin print a retraction. They had a senior member of the marketing team write an email, promising that if a retraction was published in the eBulletin, Sovereign would not file a lawsuit. This email exchange was written by someone who is no longer working at Sovereign4.

Even though everything in the article was true, Leonard, who was recovering from brain surgery, made a decision that rather than face the daunting task of defending himself, allowed Sovereign to write a retraction that he published in the eBulletin as requested. In true bully fashion, Sovereign then implemented their next litigation bully tactic.

 

Litigation Bully tactic number 2

 

Suit was filed. The lawsuit acknowledges Leonard was not the author of the article. Sovereign filed their lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court5 claiming the placement of the newspaper article defamed them, caused them to lose business and was “negligent.”

The headline that led to this lawsuit was a headline from an Orange County Register newspaper article. The article, originally appearing in the newspaper in August of 20106, used the headline that:

“A British doctor who was stripped of his medical license for conducting unethical drug trials on mentally ill patients is now running an unlicensed San Clemente drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility that focuses on the mentally ill.”

It went on to say:

“The state Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs has begun to investigate the facility, Sovereign Health of California, over its lack of license to run a residential treatment program and is reviewing two other complaints about how the facility is run.”

The eBulletin then provided the reader with an electronic link to the full article on the newspaper’s web-site.

The lawsuit claimed that the statements made in the 2010 article, and when shown again in 2015, when the eBulletin ran the headline and e-link, were “demonstratively false.7

This claim by Sovereign of “demonstratively false” in their lawsuit was patently false when it was made. More importantly, emails showed that the Sovereign staff knew the claim in their lawsuit was false when the lawsuit was filed.

We know absolutely the Orange County Register article was truthful. The official records of the investigations and findings of the State of California produced in response to a Public Records Act request, demonstrate investigations began in 2009. The first investigation ended January 26, 2012, with the Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs8 sending 3 letters to Sovereign, identifying 3 separate addresses where treatment in unlicensed houses was occurring.

On February 3, 2012, Sovereign admitted in three (3) response letters, signed by Sovereign’s director of clinical services, that “Sovereign has ceased providing all residential treatment services…”, in violation of California Health & Safety Code Sec. 11834.30. at the three houses identified by the State.

Additionally, the California Department of Health Services records show Sovereign was investigated in 2013 – 2015. These records reflect an investigation for counselor misconduct, and additional violations of providing residential addiction treatment in unlicensed homes.

In the course of litigation discovery9, emails were produced showing conclusively that senior staff members of Sovereign knew the article was factually accurate. Sovereign was unable to produce a scintilla of evidence that the truthful article in the OC Register, or the headline and e-link in the eBulletin had harmed them financially in any manner. There was a question about a loan that was in jeopardy, but that email spoke to the fact that Sharma had signed the documents as the CEO, when the loan application showed his cousin as the CEO.

Sovereign was unable to explain why in multiple newsletters and press releases they claimed that even after the eBulletin came out, they continued to grow.

The bully threw in the towel

Approximately one month before trial was set to start, Sovereign changed lawyers. The law firm that had filed this case was replaced with a lawyer that advertises he is a family law attorney. He stated that he was brought in to “resolve” the case. As a professional courtesy, he was given an extra 30 days to get ready for trial.

As I had done with the law firm that was replaced, I gave this new attorney 2 comprehensive analysis letters of why this case was flawed and should be dismissed10. I even offered him an opportunity to dismiss the case quickly, with us waiving our legal claim to recapture our costs from this lawsuit. The process to dismiss would have required him to spend 10 minutes completing a fill-in form that is then sent to the Court.

As shown below, all he and Sovereign did was to waste more time and money. Trial preparations are labor intensive. A great deal of money is spent getting ready to produce trial notebooks, draft and file documents with the court, as well as to subpoena witnesses.
Indeed, myself and attorney Robert James Winkler, Esq worked extensively in making sure Mr. Buschel’s and Writer’s In Treatment, Inc.’s rights were being enforced to the fullest extent permitted by law.

Our new trial date was set for April 23, 2018, at 8:30 am. The way the court system works is that before a trial, the opposing parties must meet face to face to discuss a number of issues. This meeting was to take place no later than April 13, 2018. Because Sovereign filed this suit, they were required to make this meeting happen.

However, the new attorney stopped all forms of communications on March 9, 2018. In spite of several phone calls and emails, as well as several letters that were mailed to him at his office address (all of which were returned saying “Return to Sender Attempted – Not Known Unable to Forward). I did not hear from him again until April 17, 2018, after I filed a Declaration with the Court showing his delay tactics.

These games show the level of harassment Sovereign and their attorney had sunk to. Clearly, if they had wanted to dismiss the case they could have at any time before money was spent getting ready for trial.

Friday, April 20, 2018, in the middle of the afternoon, less than 1 business day before the trial was set to begin, Sovereign, having wasted as much time and money as they could, threw in the towel and walked away as losers.

The lack of integrity and ethical conduct by Sovereign in this and other matters is beyond contempt.

As someone with over 43 years of experience working in the addiction treatment field, 25 years as an attorney, I cannot understand how anyone who is genuinely interested in the well- being of others can refer to Sovereign. Their bully tactics and obvious contempt for the truth makes clear to me that the driving force with them is money.

Other Bully tactics

Sovereign has filed numerous lawsuits against others. These include several neighbors of their unsupervised sober living homes, the City of San Clemente, as well as Health Net Insurance. In each lawsuit they claim outrageous financial damages. They have yet to prevail on a single case.

Sovereign uses these suits to intimidate others into not speaking up. It took great courage for Leonard to face this bully down.

It is time for others to speak up. If you know of illegal or unethical practices, you can make a difference. I encourage you to do so by reporting to State and Federal officials11.

Footnotes:
  1. All documents referenced in this article are available in the public, and will be provided by the author, in PDF format, if requested. The names of individuals who were a part of the process have been omitted intentionally. Many good people went to work there, only to find out later that the company was not what they had hoped. Good people who have left Sovereign should not be blamed for the lack of ethics shown in this lawsuit.
  2. The Fitness to Practice Panel of the General Medical Counsel.
  3. In response to a Public Records Act request, the State of California produced numerous documents showing the ongoing investigations of Sovereign, beginning in 2009 and going through 2015 when the request was made.
  4. As a point of interest, none of the staff described as participating in this frivolous lawsuit still work at Sovereign.
  5. Case Nr 30-2015-000810428-CU-DF-CJC
  6. By BRITTANY LEVINE | Orange County Register August 23, 2010 at 8:02 am.
  7. The complaint alleges at ¶ 30 (pg. 6, lines 18 – 19), the statements of the Orange County Register, posted in the eBulletin were “demonstratively false.”
  8. Now the State of California – Health and Human Services Agency, Department of Health Care Services
  9. A legal process where the various parties to the lawsuit get to demand information.
  10. One letter, dated February 14, 2018, is highly representative of the efforts made by Leonard to end this lawsuit.
  11. A list of Federal Agencies as well as State Agencies is available by emailing me at mickmeagher@mdmeagher.com.

 

 

 

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