Health district officials are scheduled to meet with Berry, along with both sides’ attorneys, on Monday, March 22, CEO Margo Arnold confirmed. So far, she said, the specific terms of the agreement have not been discussed.
“I’m just hoping this will finally settle this and it will go away,” Arnold said. “It’s certainly been going on a long time.”
A founding doctor of the health center and one-time medical director, Berry filed suit against Arnold and the health district in November 2006, seeking $2 million after the district ended its contract with his medical company, iCare Professional Corp., after months of tension.
According to the lawsuit, in an envelope sent to Arnold on Dec. 16, 2005, Berry had written two letters — one that asked to terminate his contract with the district, and another that included a request to renegotiate his contract to assuage his concerns about competent administrative support. Only the letter of resignation was acknowledged by the district.
Berry’s suit claims that the reason he was let go was his outspokenness about problems within the health center.
“Dr. Berry’s firing was in retaliation for his attempt to protect the safety and well-being of his patients, to approve the egregious administrative problems at the clinic, to correct the breach of federal and state laws, and for the exercise of his First Amendment right of free speech,” says the suit written by Berry’s attorney, Norman Ronnenburg Jr.
Berry could not be reached for comment before press time.
The suit also includes allegations of defamation, emotional distress and fraud — specifically, that the district illegally used Berry’s provider number for medical and billing purposes after he left.
The health district’s directors defended their actions at the time, however, saying Berry had begun to make outlandish allegations, shared personal matters with patients, disrupted health center operations and refused to speak with Arnold.
The dispute gathered steam in the following months, when Berry and his supporters submitted complaints to the Stanislaus County Civil Grand Jury that the health district board had violated open-meeting laws when discussing matters related to his job.
Carlo Coppo, an attorney representing Arnold and the health district, said he could not comment on the terms that would be discussed during mediation.
“On behalf of the Del Puerto Health Center and Ms. Arnold, all I can say is that we are going to continue to do our best to vigorously defend them against this unmeritous lawsuit,” he said.
Coppo said that if a settlement cannot be reached, the case will go before Stanislaus County Superior Judge William Mayhew on June 8 in Modesto.