A judge dismissed as "unconstitutionally vague" a 10-count indictment against former University Medical Center chief Lacy Thomas, who prosecutors alleged steered $10 million in no-work hospital contracts to his Chicago friends.
District Judge Michael Villani on Thursday handed down the seven-page decision, which said the indictment "does nothing more than put Thomas on notice that he/UMC may have entered into an ill-conceived contract and that by entering into such a contract, his conduct is now deemed criminal in nature."
Villani said that the indictment implied that any contract UMC or the county entered into that was more beneficial to a vendor should be considered criminal, something the judge would not accept.
In his decision, Villani asked why the vendors weren’t also charged if Thomas’ actions were criminal.
The judge said that Thomas did not personally receive a private benefit from the contracts and that each original contract had to be vetted by UMC staff, a Clark County district attorney and county staff before being approved by the Clark County commissioners.
District Attorney David Roger said he was "very disappointed" with the ruling.
"We will immediately file a notice of appeal. We hope to take this case back to a jury in the very near future," Roger said.
Thomas’ attorney Dan Albregts said the way the state prosecuted the case violated his client’s constitutional rights because the indictment did not show "what act constituted a crime."
Albregts harkened back to a grand juror who asked the prosecution to explain when a bad contract becomes criminal misconduct.
"And if you have to ask that question, then the way they (the prosecutors) are applying the statue is unconstitutionally vague," the attorney said.
Albregts said he had not yet spoken with Thomas, but he expected his client would be elated by the ruling. "I’m sure he’s going to be excited that he can begin rebuilding his life."
Albregts added that he was "extremely disappointed the state is intent on appealing the case." He said that vast resources already have been wasted on the case and that he felt it was a disservice to the county to further spend money pursuing an appeal.
A spokesman for the county declined to comment on Villani’s decision.
During a series of hearings going back several months, prosecutors and Albregts have argued before Villani on the merits of several motions to dismiss the indictment.
In April, Albregts suggested that this case was not the first time the county had approved contracts it later regretted, pointing to problems with the construction of the Regional Justice Center as an example.
Before it opened in 2005, the courthouse was plagued by several design flaws and millions of dollars in construction cost overruns.
Prosecutors argued that questions of fact in the Thomas case should be decided by a jury.
"The argument is about the law and fitting the facts to the law," Assistant District Attorney Chris Owens said at the time. "We’re saying the conduct was criminal, and they’re saying it was authorized."
Meanwhile, the judge’s ruling also noted as "interesting" that the county never sued any of the five companies that benefited from the contracts, including ACS Consultant Co., Frasier Systems Group, Premier Alliance Management, Crystal Communications and Las Vegas-based TBL Construction.
Rather, it was ACS that sued the county, which resulted in a settlement and the county forking over $595,000 to the company.
It was the hospital contract with ACS that triggered the criminal investigation against Thomas, resulting in a grand jury indictment in February 2008.
Prosecutors contended that the contracts went to Thomas’ friends and associates from Chicago and were unnecessary and duplicated services that already were available using county or hospital resources.
Thomas was charged with five counts each of theft and misconduct by a public officer stemming from the contracts awarded to the five companies during his three-year tenure at the county’s only public hospital.
A second trial was scheduled for June 20. The first one ended in a mistrial a year ago because Las Vegas police failed to give 577 pages of documents to Albregts.
During the trial, Albregts argued that his client brought in his Chicago contacts because he had worked with them before and trusted that they could help solve the major problems at UMC. Albregts said most of the people involved in the contracts were business associates, not friends, of Thomas.
Thomas, who ran Chicago’s John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County, formerly Cook County Hospital, for 10 years, was recruited by a national search firm hired by the county to find a new hospital administrator.
Then-county manager Virginia Valentine fired Thomas in January 2007, when an independent audit discovered the hospital had lost $34 million the previous fiscal year, almost double the $18.8 million loss that Thomas had reported two months earlier.
Review-Journal writer Jeff German contributed to this report. Contact reporter Francis McCabe at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-1039.