Prosecutors get OK to look at Limbaugh's medical record

Fla. judge says evidence outweighs privacy issue

December 24, 2003|By Lianne Hart | Lianne Hart,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Prosecutors are permitted to review Rush Limbaugh's medical records to determine whether he illegally obtained prescriptions from a number of doctors in order to feed an addiction to painkillers, a Florida judge ruled yesterday.

Limbaugh's attorneys had fought to keep the records sealed, arguing that their release would violate the radio commentator's right to privacy.

But Palm Beach Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey A. Winikoff ruled that the state's interest in determining whether Limbaugh broke the law eclipsed his privacy concerns. However, prosecutors may not make the records public, Winikoff ruled.

Limbaugh's attorney, Roy Black, immediately filed a notice of appeal.

In a separate motion, Black asked the court to stay its order until an appeals court reviews the case. Otherwise, the release of Limbaugh's medical information would "cause `cat out of the bag' harm," Black wrote.

Yesterday's legal skirmish was the latest arising from a criminal investigation of Limbaugh, a nationally syndicated radio host who spent five weeks in a drug rehabilitation facility in the fall for an addiction to prescription painkillers. The drugs were originally prescribed for back pain.

After learning that Limbaugh had received hundreds of painkillers prescribed by multiple doctors, Florida authorities began investigating whether Limbaugh had "doctor shopped," shuttled from one doctor to the next in order to get overlapping prescriptions.

Investigators seized Limbaugh's medical charts and files last month, but the information in them has been under seal. Palm Beach County prosecutors argued a need to review the records in order to gauge what Limbaugh's doctors knew about his prescriptions for painkillers.

"The state has clearly demonstrated the relevance ... between seizing Mr. Limbaugh's medical records and this ongoing criminal investigation," the judge wrote.

After the ruling, Black said in a statement that "Mr. Limbaugh was not doctor-shopping and he should not have to sacrifice his privacy to prove his innocence."

Limbaugh called the Florida inquiry a "fishing expedition," and said authorities were politically motivated.

Times staff researcher Anna Virtue in Miami contributed to this article. The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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