Court won't hear case with conflict question

WASHINGTON - November 9, 2009

The court on Monday turned down a hospital's appeal in a case involving an infant who was seriously injured when a nurse hit his head on a night stand and then did not report the incident or seek treatment.

Brittany and Brandon Shinn successfully sued after their infant son, Nathan, suffered multiple skull fractures and a hematoma in the incident at Oklahoma Children's Hospital.

Nathan Shinn died on December 14, 2006, shortly after the jury verdict against HCA Health Services of Oklahoma, doing business as Children's Hospital at the University of Oklahoma Medical Center.

During the trial, HCA demanded that Oklahoma County District Judge Barbara Swinton recuse herself because Gerald Durbin, the Shinns' lawyer, served as a co-chairman of the trial judge's re-election committee.

Swinton was running unopposed. She said at trial that Durbin was only a formal co-chair and her husband was the person really running her re-election committee. She rejected the request to step aside, saying since she was running unopposed, there was no re-election campaign.

HCA unsuccessfully appealed Swinton's decision to preside during the trial, but did not make the issue part of its state court appeal after the $18 million verdict was handed down.

HCA said the Supreme Court should review the case, considering the court said in June that elected judges must step aside from cases when large campaign contributions from interested parties create the appearance of bias. Durbin contributed $1,000 to her campaign, but got $719.77 refunded because she was unopposed.

But the Shinns said the court should not get involved since HCA did not make the recusal question part of its state appeals.

The case is HCA Health Services of Oklahoma v. Shinn, 09-311.

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