WICHITA — Federal prosecutors asked a federal judge Friday to issue a gag order to silence a Haysville physician and his wife indicted for operating a “pill mill” linked to at least 56 overdose deaths.
In court papers, the U.S. attorney’s office asked for a restraining order to keep physician Stephen Schneider and his wife, Linda, from talking to the media. Prosecutors also asked that the judge extend that order to include the Schneiders’ family members and Siobhan Reynolds, president of the Pain Relief Network, a patient advocacy group.
Lawrence Williamson, the doctor’s defense attorney, said he opposes the government motion.
“We strongly oppose a gag order because we believe in the public’s access to the justice system,” Williamson said. “We think the request is overbroad and not supported by law at all.”
The government also asked the court to order Williamson to give prosecutors a recorded statement the doctor made at the jail that was subsequently turned over to The Associated Press.
Williamson said he didn’t have a copy of that recording.
As an alternate to a gag order, the government sought a transfer of the trial, now scheduled for April 2009, to eliminate the possibility of the jury pool being prejudiced by publicity the case is getting in the Wichita media.
Government prosecutors announced in December that they had indicted the Schneiders, alleging that the doctor and his wife directly caused four deaths and contributed to the deaths of 11 other patients. In all, the indictment links the clinic to the accidental overdose deaths of 56 patients.
The Haysville physician and his wife were arrested on a 34-count indictment alleging conspiracy, unlawful distribution of a controlled substance resulting in death, health care fraud, illegal money transactions and money laundering.
Federal prosecutors asked the judge to admonish defense attorneys about professional rules of conduct regarding public statements.
Williamson said he was not trying to influence the jury pool.
“We are often contacted by media to respond to allegations that are made by the government and if the public has questions to the allegations we should be able to respond to those within the rule,” Williamson said.
Hatcher said the government’s motion threatened freedom of speech.
“They are trying to quiet down anything we would have to say in their defense so that people are only hearing one side of the story — basically the prosecutor’s side,” she said.
The government is also seeking to keep Reynolds and Hatcher from contacting victims and witnesses in the case. Prosecutors claimed Reynolds had told a patient that if he or she was going to commit suicide because painkillers were no longer available, to do so publicly.
Reynolds called that claim “absolutely false.”
“This is just a wild allegation,” Reynolds said. “Basically it was put out there to try to smear me. Pain Relief Network works very hard to try to stop the suicides going on across the country because of untreated pain, the epidemic of untreated pain.”
[Reynolds] said prosecutors should not be attacking constitutional rights: “I’m shocked that the government would try to get a gag order against a political activist. I find that stunning.”
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