Pubdate: Wed, 02 Feb 2005
Source: Redding Record Searchlight (CA)
Copyright: 2005 Record Searchlight - The E.W. Scripps Co.
Author: Maline Hazle
Bookmark: (Oxycontin/Oxycodone)


Last Of Four Death Suits Dismissed

Six years after state agents raided his medical clinic in Anderson, Dr. 
Frank Fisher's legal problems appear to have ended with the quiet dismissal 
of the last of four wrongful death suits against him.

The dismissal papers were filed late Monday in Shasta County Superior Court 
and delivered to Fisher's attorneys Tuesday -- the sixth anniversary of his 
arrest for multiple murders and massive Medi-Cal fraud.

"This tells me that those malpractice lawsuits were frivolous, but I knew 
that all along," Fisher said Tuesday. "I'm just glad it's over."

The four civil cases were filed by relatives of patients who allegedly died 
of OxyContin overdoses -- some of the same cases that prompted his arrest.

At that time Fisher was roundly criticized by law enforcement and some 
members of the medical community for prescribing what they said were huge 
doses of the drug, a sustained-release pain opioid that since has grabbed 
nationwide headlines and spurred numerous criminal cases against doctors.

Also arrested and named in the wrongful death suits were Redding pharmacist 
Stephen Miller and his wife, Madeline.

The final civil case stemmed from the 1999 overdose death of Maurina Havens 
of Anderson. It was filed by her brother, Gary Smith.

That all the cases were dismissed in Fisher's favor is a testament to the 
doctor's insistence on "standing on principle ... sometimes to his own 
detriment because it took so long to have an ending he can live with," said 
attorney James Goodman of San Francisco, who helped defend Fisher in the 
civil cases.

"It would have been a lot more convenient for him not to fight," Goodman 
said. "Standing on principle has proven to be costly, but in the end the 
legal system has vindicated him."

Goodman said the state's prosecution of Fisher was "not well conceived in 
the beginning."

He and co-counsel Wesley Pratt said they believe those who sued Fisher in 
civil court were hoping to piggyback on what they hoped would be a 
successful criminal prosecution.

Instead, the murder charges were reduced to manslaughter and finally dropped.

Initially, the attorneys said, the plaintiffs in the civil cases had 
offered to settle for "millions." But those offers dropped steadily as the 
state's criminal case dwindled away.

In the end, two of the four civil plaintiffs were ordered to pay Fisher 
damages -- $325.10 in one case and $1,022.54 in another.

"I feel sorry for the people who sued me. I believe that they were misled 
by the (state) agents," Fisher said.

Fisher said he also believes he has remedied a long-running state Medical 
Board investigation that once threatened his license to practice medicine.

He said he has signed an agreement with the state that he will pass a 
refresher course in general medicine, will keep a list of any controlled 
substances he prescribes and will allow his cases to be monitored for a while.

Although Shasta County Superior Court Judge William Gallagher forbade 
Fisher to practice medicine while he was out on bail on the criminal 
charges, the state never yanked his license.

But Fisher was in jail for five months before his $15 million bail was 
finally reduced and spent the next five years fighting his legal battles, 
so he hasn't practiced.

"Their concern is for the public and that I establish I'm still capable of 
practicing medicine before they turn me loose, even though I am loose on 
the public now," Fisher said. "It's the kind of thing they might impose on 
anyone out of practice for six years."

Fisher, who has been living with his parents in El Cerrito since he got out 
of jail, said he hopes to open a clinic somewhere in rural Northen 
California, possibly even in Shasta County.

"I don't have anything against Anderson or Shasta County," he said, 
characterizing his arrest as "part of a nationwide witch hunt."

"We've demonized our most valuable medicine. There's nothing better and 
nothing safer than opioids," he said.

But Fisher won't be dispensing those drugs.

"When a doctor takes an oath, I don't think that includes going to prison," 
he said. "I draw the line at this sort of thing and a vast majority of my 
colleagues do."

And that, he said, "is a tragedy and an ongoing public health disaster."
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