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Judge Neil Thomas
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Charlesetta Woodard-Thompson

A Hamilton County judge has approved a protective order that will allow Erlanger Health System's attorneys to mark documents as confidential to the public in a $25 million lawsuit brought against the hospital by a former CEO.

Charlsetta Woodard-Thompson filed the discrimination lawsuit against Erlanger in 2013, after she was abruptly terminated while on medical leave after board members named Kevin Spiegel as CEO. The case is set to go to trial in September before Circuit Court Judge W. Neil Thomas III.

Woodard-Thompson's attorney, Jennifer Lawrence, argued against the order on Monday, saying that as a public hospital Erlanger has no legal right to make requested documents like phone records and emails confidential.

"They don't want ... the press to get ahold of any of it," Lawrence argued.

Erlanger's attorney, Randy Wilson with Miller & Martin law firm, said that out of the thousands of documents Lawrence has requested, some could be considered privileged because of HIPAA and health care compliance regulations.

Lawrence argued that she had no need or desire for any personal health data, and said that hospital attorneys had a double standard about gathering seemingly unnecessary personal information, saying that Woodard-Thompson had been questioned about the mortgage on her vacation home during earlier depositions.

Wilson argued that the order could be beneficial to Lawrence, as she could also mark her own documents confidential. Both attorneys could have access to the documents and potentially have the ability to use them in trial, but they could not be available to the public.

Ultimately, Thomas approved the order -- but stipulated that if either attorney has a problem with the confidential designation, the matter will be brought before him to decide.

Thomas also implied that Lawrence may not want all the documents available to the public, hinting at the potential need for a sequestered jury because of prior media publicity.

"At some point we're going to have to determine where we try the case," said Thomas.

Woodard-Thompson claims she was unfairly passed over for the permanent CEO position, and that board members and other hospital leaders conspired to have her removed.

She also claims she was the target of racial remarks, threats to her safety and email hacks by the hospital's then-attorney Dale Hetzler, who was named in the lawsuit, amidst the internal maneuvering to have her removed.

Erlanger has denied Woodard-Thompson's claims and has sought to have the case dismissed.

Contact staff writer Kate Harrison Belz at kbelz@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.

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