Jewish World Review July 30, 2004 / 12 Menachem-Av 5764

Drs. Michael A. Glueck & Robert J. Cihak

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Consumer Reports



Still Seeking Justice for Dr. Sell


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | 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 anything.


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 Circuit.


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 then.


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 case.

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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 remains sealed.


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 whittled away.


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. Comment by clicking here.

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