A judge wants two lawyers – one of whose actions he termed “disturbing” – suspended from practicing in Chicago federal district court, because they allegedly made false statements in connection a whistle blower case brought against Tinley Park-based ambulance services alleged to have submitted false claims for reimbursement to government payers.
Judge John J. Tharp Jr. issued a recommendation April 15 that the Executive Committee of the U.S. District Court for Northern Illinois prohibit James H. Potts II and Edward Rueda from practicing before the court for one year each. Potts, of Atlanta, Ga., has been a licensed lawyer in Georgia since 1991 and Rueda, of Chicago, has been licensed in Illinois since 2011.
The matter stems from a suit filed in 2013 by Potts and Rueda, purportedly as a qui tam action on behalf of the states of Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana and the U.S. government, against the ambulance services affiliated with Blackhawk Medical Transportation, of Tinley Park, which the lawsuit alleged charged Medicare and Medicaid for services that were not necessary. The allegations were purportedly made by three former employees of the ambulance companies.
At the time the suit was lodged, Rueda submitted an application to practice in Chicago federal court – necessary for him to pursue the suit – with an affidavit in support from Potts. Eventually, the two lawyers had a falling out over the suit, with Rueda alleging Potts had "inappropriately inserted himself" into the case to the "detriment" of the three employees, according to court documents. Rueda filed an amended suit that listed him as the attorney in the case, not Potts.
In the hearings that followed to sort out Potts and Rueda’s dispute as to who was to handle the suit, Judge Tharp concluded Potts’ affidavit contained the falsehood, of which Rueda was aware, that Potts knew Rueda for “not less than two years,” when in reality the period was a few months, testimony showed.
Potts also described Rueda as his law partner, but later denied this, accusing Rueda of tacking this wrong information on to the affidavit. However, Tharp determined Potts had elsewhere described Rueda as his partner. At any rate, Tharp noted Rueda has filed tax returns as a sole proprietor, suggesting the two are not partners.
Rueda admitted to the judge his submission of the affidavit was “false,” “dishonest” and "totally inconsistent with his obligations as an attorney,” because he knew it contained bogus information. Worsening the situation, Tharp noted Rueda misled him another time in court about the length of his acquaintance with Potts.
Judge Tharp remarked these misrepresentations were “disturbing” and constitute a "significant breach of his (Rueda’s) duty of candor to the Court.” In light of this, Tharp said he wanted Rueda suspended from practicing in the court. Tharp also wanted Potts suspended, because he “misrepresented” Rueda’s status as his partner. Tharp removed both lawyers from the ambulance suit.
In Potts’ favor, Tharp addressed concerns about Potts’ conduct with the employees of the ambulance companies. Tharp determined Potts did not mislead them or failed to properly counsel them about potential conflicts of interest.
Potts claimed in the suit he had “personal knowledge” about the alleged wrongdoing by the ambulance companies, when he in fact did not have such firsthand information. However, Tharp concluded Potts was “carelessly imprecise,” rather than “intentionally deceptive.”
Potts was represented by the Chicago firm of Hinshaw & Culbertson, in connection with Tharp’s action to bar him from district court.
Chicago lawyer George Pontikes has taken over representation of the ambulance company employees.