Sunday, January 8, 2012

Kansas doctor, wife claim defense attorneys had conflict

New attorneys for a Kansas doctor and his wife convicted in a moneymaking conspiracy linked to 68 overdose deaths asked an appeals court to throw out their convictions, arguing their trial lawyers served as little more than "mouthpieces" for a patient advocate who used the case to promote her own agenda.

Documents filed Friday with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals argued trial lawyers for Dr. Stephen Schneider and his wife, Linda, had a conflict of interest that allowed Siobhan Reynolds, president the Pain Relief Network, to essentially direct the defense strategy. The couple's new lawyers also contended in filings that Reynolds had a sexual relationship with an attorney on the defense team.

Along with conspiracy, the Schneiders were convicted in 2010 of unlawfully prescribing drugs, health care fraud and money laundering at their Haysville clinic. The doctor was sentenced to 30 years in prison, and his wife got 33 years. The government also won a forfeiture judgment of $1.27 million, and the Schneiders were ordered to pay $114.7 million in restitution to victims.

The briefs filed this week offered the first public look at the arguments the couple are raising on appeal.

In them, the appeals attorneys paint Reynolds as a zealot who believed the war on drugs has transformed America into a police state in which the federal government let patients live and die in unnecessary pain. Her goal, they say, was fighting government prosecution of physicians for prescribing painkillers.

The appeals attorneys contend Reynolds persuaded the Schneiders to dismiss their court-appointed attorneys and assemble a so-called Dream Team of lawyers willing to take a stand. But they say those attorneys had a conflict of interest because they were actively representing Reynolds in other cases, and appeals attorneys say the trial attorneys wrongly shared confidential information about the Schneiders with Reynolds.

Their brief also contends the doctor and his wife could have had stronger defenses had their cases been tried separately.

In bolstering their conflict-of-interest argument, the appeals attorneys claimed Reynolds was involved during the Schneider case in a sexual relationship with Kevin Byers, the lead attorney representing Linda Schneider.

Reynolds, Byers and his mother were killed last month when a small plane he was piloting crashed in Ohio.

In pleading for a lenient sentence, Byers had argued that the Schneiders were "collateral damage" to the persecution of pain doctors and that punishing the couple would deter other doctors from offering medicine their patients need. The judge overseeing sentencing retorted that such an argument "sounds like the irresponsible propaganda" of the Pain Relief Network.

"It highlights a more troubling observation: From the beginning of the case to its very end, the lawyers, Byers no more than the others, served as little more than mouthpieces for Siobhan Reynolds and the Pain Relief Network," the appeals brief said.

Attorney Lawrence Williamson, who represented the doctor at his trial, said Friday in a phone interview that there was no conflict with their legal representation whatsoever. He said the Schneiders deserve a new trial but not for that reason.

"I dedicated over two years being a mouthpiece, but it was as a mouthpiece for Dr. Schneider," Williamson said. "Anybody who was at the trial knows I sweated blood and cried for a person who I thought was innocent - and that was Dr. Schneider and not PRN."

Williamson disputed allegations in the brief that the Schneiders' trial attorneys never pursued plea negotiations. He said they did and their clients rejected the government's offer.

Williamson said the issue of whether the trial attorneys had a conflict has already been heard and decided.

"There would have to be some evidence she was actually dictating strategy that would be adverse to the clients," Williamson said. "The PRN's actual mission is for doctors not to be found guilty of prescribing medicine to people who were sick."

By Kansas City Star

Source: Kansas City Star

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