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Christi Sulzbach survived two scandal-plagued decades in-house at Tenet Healthcare Corporation and its predecessor, National Medical Enterprises, and last year was one of the highest-paid general counsel in the health care and pharmaceutical industry [ "Flying High," August 2003]. But two scathing public letters from Senate Finance Committee chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) ended all that. The letters, sent September 5 and September 25, accused Tenet of fraud and patient mistreatment and specifically rebuked Sulzbach. On September 26 Sulzbach announced plans to resign from her post as Tenet’s chief corporate officer and general counsel, effective November 1. In her statement, the 48-year-old acknowledged the senator’s accusations obliquely, saying, “I believe that I have become a focal point for some Tenet critics.” The Santa Barbara-based Tenet announced that two deputy general counsel, Gary Robinson and Rod Stone, would run the legal department until March 31, 2004, by which time the company says it will have completed its search for a new GC from outside the company. Grassley chastised Tenet, which runs one of the nation’s largest hospital chains, for retaining the same senior management throughout the NME and Tenet scandals, which ranged from Medicare fraud to unnecessary surgeries, some of which resulted in patient deaths. The senator singled out Sulzbach, who joined NME in 1983, arguing that she could not function effectively as both GC and chief compliance officer. Grassley, who wears two hats himself, as a senator and farmer, declared: “It doesn’t take a pig farmer from Iowa to smell the stench of conflict in that arrangement.” Though Tenet declined repeated interview requests for this story, it has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing. It tried to address the conflict issue in August by naming senior counsel Cheryl Wagonhurst, 43, to the chief compliance officer position, Grassley criticized the choice in his second letter. “Tenet may be playing musical chairs to the same old music,” he wrote. Later in the letter, he focused on the compliance position again, observing, “Given Ms. Wagonhurst’s long-standing association . . . skeptics may differ with Tenet’s proclamation about naming a new ‘independent’ chief compliance officer.” With news of Sulzbach’s resignation, a Senate Finance Committee aide working on the Tenet investigation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the committee was pleased that Tenet was committed to finding “fresh faces” to head the legal department. Unlike Sulzbach and Wagonhurst, both men are relatively new to Tenet. Robinson, 54, left Santa Barbara’s Mullen & Henzell for Tenet in 1999 to manage uninsured litigation, including labor and employment suits. In 2001, the graduate of Loyola Law School of Los Angeles (an alma mater he shares with Sulzbach) moved to Dallas to handle professional liability and managed care litigation. He was promoted to deputy general counsel in June. Stone, 42, a graduate of the University of Illinois College of Law, joined Tenet in June. He had been a litigator at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher’s Los Angeles office and worked as outside counsel for the company. Given the lawsuits and investigations that Tenet faces, putting two litigation veterans in charge of the law department may have been one of the company’s best decisions. At the very least, it’s mollified the pig-farming senator from Iowa for the moment. � Heather Smith

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