The Justice Department, that monolith that moved at a glacial pace, had actually shifted. The once “marginal” civil case with little likelihood of success, as John Phillips first described my qui tam case, had grown very large and important to the government. It was Stephen Meagher's hope to simultaneously unseal my lawsuit along with Jim Alderson's, creating a media frenzy that would increase pressure on Columbia/HCA to negotiate a settlement.
But on October 5, 1998—five years after it had been filed—a federal judge unsealed Alderson's qui tam lawsuit first. The press devoured it, unable to resist Alderson's long, tangled journey from Montana to Washington, D.C., and back. Though weeks earlier the Justice Department had verbally committed to intervene in both of our cases, mine would remain sealed for months longer as Justice attorneys requested another extension. Even though we objected in principle, we knew that the Justice Department's Criminal Division continued to investigate. U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday in Tampa granted the government extension until December 29, 1998. Scaling back the planned media blitz, Meagher now focused exclusively on Alderson's case.
On the afternoon of October 5, the Justice Department issued a press release, “U.S. joins lawsuit against Columbia and Quorum Hospital Chains.” Phillips & Cohen issued its own press release, “Government's probe of Columbia/HCA prompted by whistleblower lawsuit.” Phillips & Cohen's release reported that, despite Dr. Thomas Frist's persistent de-