Rush Limbaugh Has Rights Too
By ROY BLACK
March 26, 2004 http://online.wsj.com/search#SB108026146931665998
At what point does a prosecutor's investigation of a possible crime
cross the line from legitimate inquiry to smear campaign? My interest in
the question is not entirely academic. I'm Rush Limbaugh's attorney, and
as anyone who has been following my client's situation is probably
aware, the local prosecutor (or state attorney, as we call them in
Florida) has been having a field day at Rush's expense ever since Rush
announced last October that he'd become dependent on prescription pain
medication and was entering a rehab clinic to deal with the problem.
Over the past six months, Palm Beach County State Attorney Barry
Krischer has: raided drugstores near Rush's home; seized his medical
records without going through the required process enacted by the
Florida legislature to protect medical privacy; leaked false information
to the media that he was about to plead guilty to a felony; threatened
to make his medical records public unless he pled guilty to a felony he
didn't commit; released to the media confidential letters regarding
Rush's situation that he received from my office; and falsely claimed
that the Florida Bar and attorney general's office approved of the
Normally, people with drug dependencies who acknowledge their problems
and seek treatment are lauded for their courage, not prosecuted. 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, while
giving immunity to the traffickers who supposedly kept him supplied with
painkillers, and who, as a result of a deal with the prosecutor, were
able to make a six-figure killing selling their "story" to a tabloid?
There are lots of theories about why the prosecutor is doing what he's
doing (he's an elected Democrat, Rush is a big fish, etc.), none of
which matter. What does matter is that the prosecutorial abuse to which
Rush is being subjected has ramifications for every doctor and patient
in Florida -- and throughout the U.S. As Howard Simon, executive
director of the ACLU Florida Chapter stated recently, "The outcome of
this case is going to affect the privacy of everybody in the state of
There is also concern about prosecutors who use their office
not to enforce law but to pursue a personal agenda. Texas Congressman
Ron Paul, who also happens to be a doctor, put his finger on the problem
last month, telling the House of Representatives: "Under the guise of
prosecuting the drug war, law enforcement officials can rummage through
patients' personal medical records and, as may be the case with Mr.
Limbaugh, use information uncovered to settle personal or political
Rush's situation should trouble everyone who believes in the principle
of equal treatment under the law. Even if you subscribe to the dubious
notion that public figures should be made an example of, contrast the
way Rush's case is being handled with treatment similarly afflicted
celebrities have received at the hands of law enforcement. Do you recall
Ozzy Osbourne or Elizabeth Taylor ever being singled out for criminal
investigation after they publicly acknowledged their drug dependencies?
You don't, because they weren't. Nor should they have been.
The improper seizure of Rush's medical records is now before an appeals
court. And the Florida Bar is conducting an inquiry into why a Krischer
deputy falsely claimed in a memo, initialed by Mr. Krischer himself,
that ethics experts at the Bar and in the state attorney general's
office had advised prosecutors that they had no choice but to make
copies of our confidential correspondence available to the press. The
Bar and the attorney general's office have publicly stated that they
never gave this advice to Mr. Krischer or his deputy.
Undeterred, Mr. Krischer and his staff, who have yet to charge Rush with
anything, continue to mutter darkly that Rush is a "suspect" for this or
that crime. First it was drug trafficking, then money laundering; most
recently, it's doctor shopping. For his part, Rush tries to get on with
his life. But he, and I, worry about the precedent that's being set in
this case. So should you.
Mr. Black is a lawyer in Florida.