A federal judge said Friday she will rule by Monday or Tuesday on whether to let a nonprofit health care provider suing over its ouster from a pair of government-owned buildings in Jefferson Parish remain in the facilities until the case is resolved.
U.S. District Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown spoke after a five-hour hearing during which the Jefferson Community Health Care Centers argued that the Jefferson Parish Council voted in May to oust the group from buildings in Marrero and River Ridge only because the group's leaders repeatedly refused to be influenced by Parish Councilman Mark Spears.
The two buildings, where JCHCC has provided low-cost or free care to indigent patients for years, are in Spears' district.
A nonprofit health care provider that claims it is being thrown out of a pair of government-…
JCHCC attorneys Robert Garrity and Matthew Freedus urged Brown to issue a preliminary injunction blocking the clinics' eviction until the case can be tried on the merits.
They said she has jurisdiction because federal dollars are involved. Continued access to the Marrero and River Ridge facilities would give the nonprofit its best chance to satisfy the conditions attached to its grants from the U.S. government, they said.
However, an attorney for Jefferson Parish said the contracts allowing JCHCC to operate from the buildings rent-free were terminated under provisions contained in agreements the nonprofit had signed.
Use of the Marrero facility was under a 10-year agreement that could be canceled with 60 days' notice, attorney Thomas Anzelmo Jr. said. JCHCC was notified in April that the agreement would be canceled, Anzelmo argued.
The other building was being used under a month-to-month agreement that could be canceled on short notice, he said.
Both agreements are set to expire July 31.
Anzelmo said JCHCC has other facilities from which it could operate, two of which are new. But JCHCC's attorneys responded that the group is having trouble securing a parish permit to occupy one of those facilities, and the other was meant to be used for administrative services.
Brown told JCHCC's attorneys she wasn't sure she should intervene in a local government matter, saying that if the public felt wronged by the council's decision they could vote its members out during the next election.
But she also told Anzelmo that the parish government's decision to oust JCHCC made no sense to her.
The parish is seeking another group like JCHCC to run the Marrero and River Ridge facilities, but no one has come forward, so it appears there will be a reduction in services to the public for at least a time, according to evidence presented during the hearing.
"All of this, cumulatively, does not sound good for Jefferson Parish," Brown said.
During the hearing, Shondra Williams -- who has been JCHCC's chief executive officer since 2012 -- testified that her group's problems began after she refused to hire an attorney Spears recommended.
She said she also balked at paying $184,000 in severance money to a former CEO who resigned in the wake of scathing audits on the clinics' fiscal practices and who is now in business with Spears' political mentor and predecessor on the council, Byron Lee.
Further, Williams said, she turned Spears down when he suggested she fire her chief financial officer even though JCHCC was earning a series of clean audits.
Thaddeus Valentine, chairman of the JCHCC board and also a patient at the clinics, testified that the move to push JCHCC out occurred after Spears remarked that Williams could "not be trusted" and after one of Spears' aides made it known that the councilman had felt disrespected by Valentine during a discussion.
Williams' and Valentine's testimony showed Spears and his colleagues on the Parish Council had no legitimate basis to evict JCHCC, the clinics' attorneys argued.
Spears was not at the hearing. The parish -- which did not have the burden of proof Friday -- opted against calling any witnesses.