Judge delays sentencing for Baton Rouge doctor

01/29/05 - A federal judge has once again delayed the guilty plea and sentencing of a former Baton Rouge doctor accused of selling prescriptions -- this time to give federal prosecutors time to bring in a New Orleans "medical expert."

In an order made public Friday, U.S. District Judge James Brady canceled the hearing for Dr. Mark Cotter set for next week after prosecutors requested the delay. A new date has not been scheduled.

In his continuance motion, prosecutor Robert Piedrahita said the unnamed expert is reviewing the medical records of five witnesses on which the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration based the criminal complaint that led to Cotter's arrest last year.

Cotter, 39, whose last known address was 5806 Highland Road, once ran the Rejuvenation and Wellness Clinic on Essen Lane. A federal grand jury indicted Cotter in May on three counts of unlawfully dispensing Adderal, which is routinely prescribed for hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder; one count of cocaine distribution; and one count of possession of marijuana, methadone and hydrocodone.

The doctor surrendered his medical and prescription licenses and spent more than six months in a substance-abuse program. He also has indicated he intends to plead guilty to the charges.

It is the second time those plans have been delayed. U.S. District Judge Frank Polozola canceled a December hearing and ordered an additional review of the case after a relative of one of Cotter's former patients wrote the judge a letter, expressing concern that Cotter would serve little or no jail time.

Earlier this month, Polozola dropped the high-profile criminal case after the law firm in which his son is a partner agreed to represent Cotter in at least one of several pending civil lawsuits. It was reassigned to Brady.

U.S. Attorney David Dugas said Friday that prosecutors are bringing in the medical expert to meet the court's previous request for additional information. The move, he said, was not prompted by any complaints from Cotter's former patients.

Prosecutors have budgeted $5,825 to cover the expert's professional fee and travel expenses, Dugas said, but they don't expect to spend the full amount.

"We're simply making every effort to make sure the court has complete information at the time of sentencing," Dugas said. "The court will then evaluate the significance and decide what -- if any -- weight should be attached to the information presented to it."

But Aidan Reynolds, the lawyer representing Cotter, said a medical expert's review is "a silly waste of time" and "totally irrelevant to the charges that we have agreed to plead guilty to."

He said the five witnesses whose medical records will be reviewed are confidential informants, some of whom may be drug addicts cooperating with authorities in hopes of having the charges against them reduced or dropped.

"In my world, the word of a drug addict is something I would as an expert not hang my hat on," Reynolds said. "I'm certain that once these records and the names of these folks are provided to us, we'll discover a long-standing record of run-ins with police. They know the way to get out of trouble is to point the finger at others whether the stories they tell are true or not."

Reynolds said Cotter has agreed to plead guilty "to the things that he did while he was going through a terrible personal crisis. At the end of the day, I think the record will reflect that this is just another waste of taxpayer dollars."

DEA agents have said a six-month investigation found Cotter routinely prescribed OxyContin, Percocet, Xanax, hydrocodone and other pain medications to patients without examining them or discussing their medical histories.

Special Agent Lisa Gigante wrote in an affidavit accompanying a criminal complaint that Cotter was "in effect operating a prescription mill for his own financial profit."

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