- Associated Press - Thursday, May 26, 2016

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - Attorneys who lost a medical malpractice case against University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics are seeking access to a letter containing allegations of jury tampering in another recent case the hospital won.

As reported by The Associated Press last month, investigators are looking into allegations that the hospital benefited from jury tampering in a high-stakes February trial involving a girl who was born with brain damage and severe disabilities. Jurors ruled 7-1 that the hospital was negligent but concluded that wasn’t the cause of the girl’s injuries, declining the plaintiffs’ request to award millions in damages.

Days after the verdict was returned, the court received an anonymous letter containing the jury tampering allegations. Judge Chad Kepros has kept the March 3 letter under seal, and it’s not clear specifically what it alleges. But based on the information it contained, the girl’s family immediately sought a new trial and the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office launched a criminal investigation.

Attorneys Beau Buchholz and Alexander Wonio last week asked Kepros for a copy of the sealed letter and related documents. They represent plaintiffs who sued the hospital in Bremer County over allegations of negligent treatment of a woman’s medical condition. At that trial last October, jurors also ruled 7-1 that the hospital was negligent but awarded no damages.

The attorneys told the judge in a letter that the similarities in the verdicts called for further investigation “to ensure that we are zealously representing our clients and can confirm they received a fair trial.”

In an order Monday, Kepros said that it was “wildly speculative” to connect the two cases based on the limited facts available. But he said that he would make the documents available to the attorneys as long as the parties or criminal investigators don’t file any objections within 10 days.

Kepros said the criminal investigation remained “open and active.” And he hinted at the possibility that the letter could be a hoax by someone trying to influence the outcome.

“Jury tampering, or alternatively misconduct by a juror, party, or other interested person aimed to affect the resolution of a case before the court, goes to the heart of the integrity” of the civil justice system, he wrote in the order.

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