It has been more than two years since news first broke that Rush Limbaugh had an addiction to painkillers.
That news led to a criminal investigation of Limbaugh by Palm Beach County State Attorney Barry Krischer, who in December 2003 leaked to the media that his office had uncovered evidence of 10 felony counts, including "doctor shopping," money laundering and drug trafficking.
Despite the sensational allegations, no charges have been brought.
Worse, in the latest round between the State Attorney's office and Limbaugh, Assistant State Attorney James Martz made a startling admission in open court on Tuesday as he sought a court order allowing his office to interview Rush's doctors.
Martz told Circuit Court Judge David Crow that his office has "no idea" if Limbaugh had even committed a crime, but still wanted the Florida judge to grant them the extraordinary privilege of interviewing Limbaugh's doctors without his consent.
Martz argued essentially that prosecutors were seeking a blank check to question Limbaugh's doctors and invade his privacy – all in search of a crime they admit they have no evidence was ever committed.
Martz insists he needs to put basic questions to Limbaugh's doctors.
Despite two years of investigation – including an examination of Rush's private medical records – Martz told Judge Crow: "I have no idea if Mr. Limbaugh has completed the elements of any offense yet . . . unless we can ask several pertinent questions."
Earlier this year, Krischer's office won an 18-month legal battle to review Rush's medical records, arguing that these would prove whether he had committed a crime or not. Limbaugh lost at the circuit and appellate court levels, and the Florida Supreme Court declined to hear the case. The records were handed over in July.
Apparently, Limbaugh's medical records have not satisfied Krischer.
A frustrated Roy Black, Limbaugh's attorney, said in response to the latest skirmish: "They cannot force Mr. Limbaugh to supply their evidence for them."
Black argued that confidentiality between a doctor and a patient is a privilege that even criminal investigators cannot penetrate.
Judge Crow seemed to agree, telling Martz: "The statue says . .. categorically that the physician shall not discuss or cannot discuss the condition of a patient absent a written waiver. Period."
Since 2003, the state has been investigating allegations that Limbaugh illegally stocked up on prescription pain pills from several doctors, a third-degree felony called "doctor shopping."
Black has characterized the prosecutors' efforts as a "fishing expedition," and suggested that Limbaugh is being singled out because of his conservative political views.
Black said in an interview, when asked if Rush was being singled out: "Of all the millions of people addicted to painkillers, have you ever seen their doctors being subpoenaed? . . . They're trying to publicly embarrass him and ruin his radio program."
In fact, the Palm Beach Post, a paper with a strong anti-Limbaugh editorial bent, noted in March 2004 that doctor shopping has very rarely been prosecuted in this State Attorney's jurisdiction.
Black also made the point that it's almost unheard of for prosecutors to charge addicts with a crime after they go through rehabilitation.
Soon after publicly admitting his addiction, Limbaugh went public with his problem and entered an Arizona facility. He successfully completed the program and has been on the air broadcasting ever since.
Limbaugh also revealed that his addiction began after he underwent corrective back surgery and his doctor prescribed painkillers.
"Normally, people with drug dependencies who acknowledge their problems and seek treatment are lauded for their courage, not prosecuted," Black wrote in the Wall Street Journal.
"So am I wrong to wonder if something is out of whack when the Palm Beach County State Attorney pulls out all the stops in an effort to nail Rush?"
Black has revealed that initially Krischer planned on treating Limbaugh as his office treats similar cases and not prosecuting. But that abruptly changed when Limbaugh's stature brought publicity to the case and led to an organized e-mail campaign from Limbaugh detractors to Krischer demanding a political prosecution.
Krischer, a Democrat first elected to his post in 1992, had developed a reputation as being fair-minded.
But a careful examination of the facts suggests politics may be playing a larger role, and his prosecution is based on a flimsy case of doctor shopping.
Krischer's office has already leaked to the local press confidential details of Rush's medical records, including claims he obtained thousands of pills from several doctors.
But Black contends that information is nothing more than an effort to smear Limbaugh and that there has been no doctor shopping on Limbaugh's part.
"The prescription records that are in the search warrant affidavits should be put in perspective," he maintained in a statement issued in July.
"Of the 2,130 pills prescribed, only 1,863 were painkillers, and of those only 1,733 were for hydrocodone. These were to be taken over a period of 217 days, from the date of the first prescription until 30 days from the date of the last prescription.
"The dose averages out to a little over eight pills a day, which is not excessive and is in fact a lawful dose.
"Nine-two percent of the pain medication was prescribed by two doctors who were treating Mr. Limbaugh for back pain. They work in the same office from the same medical file, and there could be no doctor shopping between them . . .
"We continue to believe that Mr. Limbaugh is being pursued by overzealous prosecutors and that he should not be charged with any crime.
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