Walker County's arguments that it does now owe Erlanger Health System for loans the county backed have been put to bed — at least for now.
In a ruling last week, U.S. District Court Judge Harold Murphy said the county owes the hospital $8.7 million because Commissioner Bebe Heiskell promised to pay back a loan Erlanger offered Hutcheson Medical Center in 2011. Murphy said two contracts signed at the time involving the county, Erlanger and Hutcheson's board show the county is responsible for the payment.
"Walker County committed to paying those sums," Murphy wrote.
Stuart James, an attorney representing the county, said he plans to appeal the ruling, hoping to eventually make arguments before the Georgia Supreme Court.
"Walker County has to exercise that right of appeal so as to protect the interests of its taxpayers," James said in a statement.
But Erlanger representatives said they expect Walker County to live up to its responsibilities.
"We believe County Commissioner Bebe Heiskell continues to have great respect for Judge Murphy and the law and will honor the judgment of a federal court," said Erlanger Chief Administrative Officer Gregg Gentry.
The bill could go away, if James successfully sways the Georgia Supreme Court that Murphy's logic isn't correct. At the same time, the bill could also grow.
Murphy said the $8.7 million figure does not include interest on the 2011 loan or attorneys' fees.
The latter issue could be in a jury's hands. If Erlanger wants to argue that Walker County unnecessarily dragged this ordeal out in court, Murphy ruled, the hospital can make a case during a jury trial.
Erlanger has about 30 days to file a motion for attorneys' fees.