Well-known medical malpractice attorney Stephen L. Snyder defended himself against accusations he sought millions in exchange for silence in the death of a patient in the University of Maryland Medical System’s transplant program, arguing in court documents he was seeking to improve the program.
Snyder’s defense came in a 55-page response he filed Friday in the Maryland Court of Appeals to a complaint by the Maryland attorney grievance commission, which is seeking sanctions against the lawyer.
The action stemmed from secret recordings by the Federal Bureau of Investigation of conversations and negotiations between Snyder and hospital administrators, according to transcripts filed in the grievance complaint. Hospital officials, saying they were alarmed by Snyder’s actions, had gone to the FBI in January 2019, a year after the first negotiations began, according to the complaint.
Snyder, in his response, said the hospital system and its lawyers were using the “questionable” tactics to keep him from filing more cases.
“UMMS used the threat of extortion as a bludgeon to freeze Mr. Snyder from taking any action to pursue additional cases, which he knew existed,” according to the response.
The case is shedding light on the behind-scenes medical malpractice world, where hospitals and doctors quietly settle an unknown number of cases. The existence of the cases, the details of potential medical errors and payouts are rarely revealed to the public.
The accusations against Snyder and his response reveal two previously unknown settlements with the hospital system brought by the lawyer; one client was the wife of a man who died after surgery, and the other was a woman paralyzed after undergoing transplant surgery.
The settlement amounts were not released, and attempts to reach members of the estate of one of Snyder’s clients were unsuccessful. The other client died after reaching a settlement with the hospital.
“This case is about UMMS’s motive to prevent disclosure of its egregious misconduct and its efforts to destroy Mr. Snyder’s stellar 50-year reputation.— Stephen L. Snyder court filing
Snyder’s response cites multiple cases against the Maryland transplant program and the system generally as a reason he sought a consultant’s role. He said in his court filing that during the past 20 years he has settled more than 20 cases totaling more than $100 million with the hospital system, including the transplant program.
“This case is about UMMS’s motive to prevent disclosure of its egregious misconduct and its efforts to destroy Mr. Snyder’s stellar 50-year reputation based on a ‘MERE SUGGESTION’ of a consulting/retainer agreement,” Snyder’s response said.
A system spokesman did not respond to a request for comment about that total of settlements claimed by Snyder.
According to Snyder’s response, one of the client’s revealed in the response, identified only as M.S., wanted a provision in her settlement that Snyder would become a consultant. He alleged the program’s quality of care was suffering as it sought to perform lucrative transplants.
Snyder’s response says he never had sought such a deal before and the hospital system just could have said no to his offer to consult for the program, a large operation that performs more than 400 transplants a year.
Instead, Snyder’s response alleges hospital system officials let him believe they were considering the offer. He said hospital officials chose to pursue an ethics violation with the grievance commission only after they failed to get charges filed by the FBI.
At the time the grievance commission complaint was filed, Snyder said the FBI had cleared him of a crime. The FBI said it could not comment.
Snyder, who has not been charged with a crime, said Monday he could not comment beyond the response.
“This case is about Mr. Snyder’s conduct, however much he may try to deflect from his alleged ethical violations as an attorney and avoid responsibility by blaming others.”— UMMS spokesman Michael Schwartzberg
If the commission finds against Snyder, it could fine or even disbar the lawyer.
The university system responded to Snyder’s account with a statement from a spokesman, Michael Schwartzberg.
“This case is about Mr. Snyder’s conduct, however much he may try to deflect from his alleged ethical violations as an attorney and avoid responsibility by blaming others,” it read.
“UMMS and its counsel believed it had an ethical duty to report this conduct to the Attorney Grievance Commission and Bar Counsel who agreed with our assessment as demonstrated by the disciplinary charges they have brought against Mr. Snyder,” it continued. “We will not comment further about the allegations, and will await their resolution in court.”
The grievance commission complaint against Snyder contends he wanted to make the arrangement not look like extortion.
“The critical thing is, how do we implement an agreement that doesn’t let these things surface, that’s not extortion,” Snyder was recorded saying at an August 2018 meeting.
The Morning Sun
The conversations were ongoing during a difficult stretch for the hospitals system, including the Healthy Holly scandal involving no-bid deals with members of its board, including former Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh, who was sentenced to prison in the matter. The investigation also led to resignations of other board members, the CEO and other top executives.
The affiliated University of Maryland School of Medicine also was rocked by accusations of sexual harassment that led to an overhaul of practices in the school and at the flagship University of Maryland Medical Center. A female research coordinator who said she was being sexually harassed by another superior brought a lawsuit against the school and other entities.
The grievance commission complaint alleged Snyder said he planned an advertising campaign and showed hospital officials a video he produced called “Caught Red Handed.” He called the case of the man who died as a “gold mine,” the complaint said.
“He stated that there were ‘devastating’ emails that would only be kept confidential if he was paid $25 million,” the complaint alleged.
At one point in the recordings, he joked about increasing his demand to $50 million, according to the complaint.
Hospital officials had retained the outside counsel of former State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein, who recommended they go to the FBI.
Snyder’s response said since the complaint was filed, other lawyers have advertised “free consultations” for people who have “had serious complications from an organ transplant at the University of Maryland Medical System within the last 10 years.”