Originally created 02/25/97

Attorneys try to keep patients' names private in medical fraud case



Attorneys for the former Medical College of Georgia researchers tried unsuccessfully to obtain a restraining order against the attorney general's staff to protect patients' confidentiality.

Civil attorney Jay Sawilowsky also asked, but failed to persuade, Superior Court Judge Albert M. Pickett to force the state's attorneys to answer some questions, such as, who called in the television crews last week when Dr. Richard L. Borison and Dr. Bruce I. Diamond were indicted on criminal charges.

Mr. Sawilowsky said the judge should sign the restraining order to keep the attorney general's staff from releasing the names of any more patients. The names of 11 patients are included in the the indictment and the civil forfeiture lawsuit against the doctors.

Dr. Borison and Dr. Diamond conducted drug studies on patients with psychiatric conditions such as depression, schizophrenia and Alzheimer's disease. The doctors now face criminal charges, including an allegation that they diverted more than $10 million in research grant money from MCG over a nine-year period.

"This is just an attempt to seize the moral high ground," Special Assistant Attorney General John Floyd said of the defense's motion. The state's attorneys only named those patients connected with allegations that Dr. Diamond forged prescriptions, Mr. Floyd said.

The defense was just trying to embarrass the attorney general's office and they are trying to create a media event, Mr. Floyd said.

"Hold on a minute," Judge Picket said. "Somebody alerted CNN - they were hear with a full crew before the grand jury even met (the morning of Feb. 18). I dare say the defendants didn't invite CNN down. I wonder who did?"

Mr. Floyd told the judge that his office did provide advance copies of the 172-count criminal indictments to selected members of the media.

That's not related to the patients' names, and the attorney general's office didn't violate any court rules, Judge Pickett said.

Patients' confidentiality will be protected by the receiver, attorney Paul H. Dunbar III, whom Judge Pickett appointed last week, he said.

Mr. Sawilowsky pressed Judge Pickett to hold a hearing on the matter next month and devise some way to console those patients whose identities have already been revealed.

"This has just become a big can of worms," Judge Pickett said. Mr. Dunbar must be given the chance to do his job, which may include hiring doctors to advise him about the research patients.

It's too late to protect those patients whose identities were revealed in open court records, Judge Pickett said. And, there's no appropriate way for the court to prohibit reporters from contacting patients, he said.