Country doctor is cleared Calvert Co. 'hero' faced illegal prescription charges

December 31, 1992|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff Writer

The courtroom spectators rose to their feet and applauded as tears welled in their eyes; a Catholic priest put his hands together and silently prayed. Their hero, Calvert County's last country doctor, had just been cleared of criminal charges.

In Circuit Court in Prince Frederick yesterday, Dr. George J. Weems, 82, was found innocent of six misdemeanor counts of illegally prescribing drugs to undercover police officers. The verdict by Judge Robert J. Woods came after a 2 1/2 -day trial that at times sounded like a canonization, as many of the most prominent figures in Southern Maryland lined up to testify on behalf of Dr. Weems, who started practicing medicine in Calvert County in 1938.

"Dr. Weems is and has been one of the heroes of this county," Judge Woods said. "I find him not guilty as to all charges."

"Righteousness has won," said Bishop Joseph Brown of the Bible Way Church in Prince Frederick, one of 18 character witnesses for Dr. Weems. The list also included Maryland Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, State Sen. Bernie Fowler of Prince Frederick, retired Circuit Judge Perry Bowen and retired State Sen. Paul Bailey of Leonardtown. By force of their number and conviction, the witnesses and the crowd of spectators impressed Judge Woods.

"I never sat in a case with this many character witnesses," said the Prince George's County judge, who was assigned to hear the case because the Calvert County judge removed himself, citing his long association with Dr. Weems. "I never sat in a case where so many people came to sit and stayed, day after day, to hear the outcome."

About 30 spectators were on hand when the trial ended. They gathered around the defendant's table as Dr. Weems' face flushed. He cried, he thanked his lawyer, then slowly walked out of the courtroom.

"It was all unnecessary," said Dr. Weems of Huntingtown, a former Calvert County commissioner and ex-chairman of the county Democratic Central Committee. Dr. Weems, who charged for an office visit and was known to waive fees for indigent patients, said he "probably will" apply to have the state reinstate his medical license. He surrendered his license on July 1 rather than face suspension by the Maryland Board of Physician Quality Assurance.

The board acted after Dr. Weems was charged in April with six felonies and six misdemeanors for prescribing painkillers and amphetamines for two undercover Charles County officers assigned to the Southern Maryland Narcotics Task Force.

The police acted on information that many suspicious prescriptions for controlled drugs were coming from Dr. Weems. Several Calvert County pharmacists had stopped filling his prescriptions for anything but antibiotics.

News of the charges unleashed a torrent of protest letters in local newspapers and a doctors' petition drive supporting Dr. Weems.

The state charged that Dr. Weems wrote six prescriptions during four office visits between November 1991 and January 1992, without examining the men and without making an effort to verify their complaints.

Dr. Weems also wrote a painkiller prescription for a woman whom he did not know and never saw, as one of the detectives asked for the medication for his girlfriend.

As the trial opened, the state dropped the felony charges. Prosecutor Frank Jones Jr., the deputy state's attorney from Charles County assigned to this case because the Calvert County state's attorney removed himself, said the felony counts were to be used to give a jury the option of choosing between greater or lesser charges. When Dr. Weems chose a trial by a judge, the felonies were dropped.

Dr. Weems' lawyer, Thomas Axley, did not deny that Dr. Weems wrote the prescriptions. He argued that there was no criminal intent, that the police officers took advantage of an elderly doctor who had grown accustomed to taking his patients at their word. This trust, Mr. Axley argued, lies at the heart of life in rural Calvert County, home to some 56,000 people.

"In this community we have based so much of our style of life on telling the truth, on believing in people," Mr. Axley said in his closing statement, "It's true that in Washington, D.C., you can't do that. It's true that in Chicago you can't do that. It's true that in Baltimore you can't do that."

Mr. Jones argued that the standards of medical practice do not vary from county to county.

He claimed that Dr. Weems' laxity in prescribing controlled drugs violated standards of medical practice and criminal law.

Judge Woods, after hearing testimony from doctors on both sides, the two police officers and the stream of character witnesses, disagreed.

"Intention must be proved to have a criminal act," he said.

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