Jewish World Review July 30, 2004 / 12 Menachem-Av 5764
Drs. Michael A. Glueck & Robert J. Cihak
Still Seeking Justice for Dr. Sell
Last year we wrote about the ongoing case of a Missouri dentist, Dr. Charles
Sell, who has
now been in federal prisons for seven years - without being convicted of
Seven years is a long time. It's especially long when the maximum sentence
for the original charges (if he were convicted) would be forty-one months,
according to dissenting Justice Bye on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th
Several readers recently asked for a follow-up report on this grotesque
case. The latest development is qualified good news. On July 12, 2004,
Donald J. Stohr, United States District Judge of the United States District
Court, Eastern District Missouri, ruled Dr. Sell competent to stand trial
and set a trial date for January 24, 2005. He will remain in prison until
Dr. Sell was running a successful dentistry practice in the St. Louis suburb
of Creve Coeur when he was arrested and imprisoned in 1997 for violating
Medicaid regulations. The judge sealed many of the documents related to Dr.
Sell's case so we don't have detailed information about the charges.
In an attempt to entrap Dr. Sell, the government also hired an informant to
try to enroll Dr. Sell in a plot to murder a government witness in his case.
Although observers independent of Sell and the prosecution listened to the
audio tapes of the conversations and found no evidence of a murder plot, Dr.
Sell was indicted on April 23, 1998 for attempted murder.
Two years after his initial imprisonment, on April 14, 1999, United States
Magistrate Judge Terry I. Adelman ruled that Dr. Sell was not competent to
stand trial because prison officials found that Dr. Sell couldn't adequately
assist his attorneys in preparing his defense. At the prosecutor's request,
the judge ordered that the government could involuntarily administer any and
all mind-altering drugs to Dr. Sell, without limit, in order to render him
mentally capable and receive a fair trial.
The "incompetent" Dr. Sell challenged this order for another four years, all
the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The High Court ruled in his favor on June
16, 2003 finding that forced drugging is unconstitutional in Dr. Sell's
Solitary confinement and abuse punctuated Dr. Sell's jail treatment; in one
example, a surveillance videotape fortuitously recorded a scalding by prison
officials. Although Dr. Sell's lawyer has seen the videotape, a court order
restrains him from telling anyone what he saw. His lawyer (along with the
St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper and others) filed a freedom of
information lawsuit to require prison officials to release the videotape. It
Almost a year after the Supreme Court ruled against forced medication, the
federal district court finally reconsidered Dr. Sell's competence to stand
trial at a May 21, 2004 hearing in St. Louis. Mental health professionals on
both sides continued to declare Dr. Sell mentally ill but several found him
competent to stand trial, without additional medication or treatment. In his
July 12 order, U.S. District Judge Donald Stohr wrote "Dr. Sell exhibited a
better than average understanding" of the proceedings, and ruled "the
defendant is competent to proceed to trial." The judge further ordered Dr.
Sell to remain in jail until the trial.
In a television interview afterwards, Dr. Sell expressed reservations about
the trial ever happening, saying, "I'm certainly not holding my breath."
Neither are we. Without continued vigilance on Dr. Sell's behalf, we have no
reason to assume justice will prevail in this case.
Our draconian Medicaid laws brought on this sordid travesty. Since
infractions of the complex and voluminous Medicaid regulations are now
defined as a crime - rather than a civil offense - federal agents are
empowered to invade medical offices and throw doctors and dentists in prison
on fraud charges. Intimidated and stripped of everything they own, the
prisoners are at the mercy of government prosecutors who hold almost
unlimited money and power.
We can't afford to be complacent lest our freedoms and liberties are further
Dr. Sell may be suffering from a delusional disorder as the examining mental
health professionals say. But his delusion is probably in better order than
our federal justice system.
We advocate his immediate release. Remove the excessive penalties that allow
the government to abuse citizens, including medical professionals.
Let Dr. Sell go.
Editor's Note: Robert J. Cihak wrote this week's column.
Michael Arnold Glueck, M.D., is a multiple award winning writer who comments
on medical-legal issues. Robert J. Cihak, M.D., is a Discovery Institute
Senior Fellow and a past president of the Association of American Physicians
and Surgeons. Both JWR contributors are Harvard trained diagnostic radiologists.
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