Just Doing His Job
By JOHN TIERNEY
“After I wrote last year about Richard Paey, the wheelchair-bound patient who’s been in physical agony for two decades, a lot of readers asked me what kind of monster could have prosecuted him for obtaining painkillers. If you watched “60 Minutes” Sunday, you could see for yourself.
Scott Andringa, the prosecutor in Florida who sent Paey to prison for 25 years, did not come off well on “60 Minutes,” but he didn’t look dementedly evil, either. He seemed exactly the way I’ve found him in interviews: earnest, conscientious, convinced he had done the right thing. That’s why he scares me.
He’s one of the many well-meaning public officials whose judgment has been so warped by the war on drugs that they can’t see what they’ve become. Andringa, echoing the line of the Drug Enforcement Administration, has assured me he would never stop patients from getting medicine for their pain.
“I have the utmost respect for doctors who try to treat pain humanely and responsibly,” he told me. “I am not a doctor. I have never claimed to be a doctor.”
Yet there he was playing doctor on “60 Minutes” to explain why it was “reasonable” to infer that Paey was a drug dealer. There was no evidence that Paey had sold any of his painkillers (and agents had conducted surveillance of him and his wife for two months). But Andringa inferred that Paey must have been selling them because the prescriptions he received worked out to about 25 pills per day.
“One pill every hour, every day, for two years,” Andringa told Morley Safer, as if this feat of math proved his case. It’s the same mystic numerology you hear over and over from drug warriors like Karen Tandy, the head of the D.E.A., who prefers to focus on the number of pills prescribed without bothering with details like the patient’s needs or the dosage.
Paey had no trouble explaining to me why he was taking 25 pills per day: his doctor cautiously gave him a variety of low-strength pills in order to avoid prescribing the kind of painkillers that tempt drug abusers and invite investigation from the D.E.A. Instead of taking a few high-strength oxycodone pills, Paey took a cocktail of pills containing low doses of oxycodone and other less effective pain killers like Tylenol.
As a result, the total daily dose of oxycodone in all those pills Paey took was less than what he could have gotten in a single high-strength OxyContin pill. And there are some chronic-pain patients who need 10 of those high-strength OxyContins every day because they, like Paey, have developed a tolerance to the drug over the years.
So there was no good medical reason to assume that Paey wasn’t taking all those pills. In fact, he says he wasn’t getting enough pain relief because of his doctor’s fear of the D.E.A. Yet Andringa simply made his own medical diagnosis ‘¯Ω too many pills ‘¯Ω and proceeded to exploit the extraordinary leverage that prosecutors have been given over doctors and patients.
The typical approach is to put pressure on patients to turn on their doctors, but it can work the other way, too. Paey told me he was offered a deal by investigators: “They said if you’re willing to testify against your doctor it would go a long way to having these charges go away.” Paey refused, and then found himself facing hostile testimony from the doctor, who said he had not authorized the contested prescriptions.
After the doctor’s credibility was challenged in court ‘¯Ω he was contradicted both by his own words and by pharmacists who said he’d approved the prescriptions ‘¯Ω the prosecutor came up with a mind-boggling new argument against Paey. Andringa told the jurors that even if they believed the doctor had prescribed the drugs, Paey should still be convicted because the doctor should never have written the prescriptions.
Andringa argued that the doctor wasn’t practicing proper medicine ‘¯Ω according to the prosecutor’s standards ‘¯Ω so the prescriptions were illegal and Paey shouldn’t have filled them. By this logic, instead of listening to his doctor, Paey should have tried to anticipate what a prosecutor would prescribe for him.
I spoke to Andringa yesterday, after he’d watched “60 Minutes” and seen Paey’s wife and the three teenage children whose father may die in prison. “I’m not thrilled about this case,” he said. “I’m only proud that I did my job as a prosecutor.” And self-appointed doctor.”
I have more information to impart but I’ll withold for now to see what you think of this man and his approach to his job. I know Scott Andringa, have spent time with him, and tell me if you can does he believe in a deity?
I inadvertantly posted the followng as a response to your earlier comments, not realizing more had come in! Sorry for any confusion.
I suspect, but cannot prove, that our system of administering the laws, which in the criminal system especially is a contest between the state and the accused - with the state wearing the white hat and the defendant the black - does a lot to facilitate the politicians in passing laws that are essentially unjust in that they also represent narrow views of good versus evil. And as you pointed out, these views are based on beliefs that the prospective defendants act as the result of deficiences in character, rather than from having been molded or influenced in any significant way by their environment.
A case for judicial review of prosecutorial discretion if I ever read one!
It also seems to be a case where evidence of intent was manufactured by implication based on deliberately fallacious arguments - a common tactic where the game is to win, and where the defense is expected to lie - and so there’s no stigma attached to a little deception practiced in return by the prosecution. Them’s the rules!
And if the system is set up so that you then need a good liar on your side, but your intention is not to lie, you lose if you simply tell the truth. Them’s the rules too!
And did the evidence of the deal offered by the investigators ever get to the jury? It would seem otherwise, and if so, it was likely because its relevance had been determined by the government rather than by the triers of the facts. Hey, it’s our game and them’s our rules, and it’s the only game in town.
You asked if we could tell if Scott Andringa believed in a deity. My guess is that he does, and that he can do unconscionable things because he believes it’s God’s will that he do so.
I wonder if anyone ever asked him if he thought justice was done, and if so, how did he define justice?
You see right through the maze with me. The rules supposedly require truth be told when in fact the defense that has an innocent client usually tries very hard to do that. The prosecutor who knows the client is likely innocent is given free rein by the court to concoct theories that would not ever stand up if exposed to the light of all of the evidence impinging on them.
In Andringa’s case the judge let him make these ridiculous assumptions in the presence of the jury after the evidence was in and the proofs closed. Not at all unusual BTW. The jury had no idea the doctor was who the prosecutor really wanted - and they had no idea of the pressures the doctor was under to testify for the prosecutor. If in drug cases we require everything that’s in the files on both side be exposed to the other that’s a start.
But you hit the nail on the head if everything that the prosecution offers the defense is admissible to the jury the system wouldn’t produce such terrible results in cases like this. If the jury knew what he had offered and if they knew what the man could get they would be sure not to find the defendants guilty of something they could be given too great a penalty for. I think the jury should be instructed on the penalties the judge could give the defendant.
Like all lawyers I have faith in the jury system and think if the jurors get to hear all the evidence they will get it right most of the time. They rarely if ever get to hear it all.
The old saw that this sort of stuff would cause the system to grind to a halt is bull. The PD and the STATE both know in 98% of the cases who is guilty of what. The deals would still be offered and accepted in those cases. In fact I think the pressure would cause a fair offer to be made much more quickly.
And you are right about his belief system, he’s a born again christian who thinks he’s doing god’s will.
You made reference to attorneys having faith in the jury system, but it seems to me that it’s a faith based as much on loyalty and hope than certainty or reason. And history seems to indicate that faith was never complete almost from the get-go. The bets that it will work always seem to have been somewhat hedged.
To the accused, and especially the innocent, judgement by a jury of your peers has seemed to mean they would look at the facts and make decisions that would be more to his advantage - since the members would be more familiar with the circumstances of his life and the social mores he would be expected to conform to.
Thus the accused was and is led to trust in the fairness of the proceedings when at the same time the powers that be have lacked trust that such a jury would reach the ‘right” decisions and therefor have found ways to limit the actual facts to those which they felt would most help that jury avoid coming to the wrong ones (from their point of view, of course). And thus was born what are essentially our arcane rules of evidence.
In the vernacular of today, it could be said that the jury came about to give power to the people, but in the vernacular of a previous time, it seems that one hand giveth while the other taketh away.
“What’s your point,” I hear someone asking. My point is it may be time to equate our faith in something with actually placing our trust in that same something, and long past the time to start a complete overhaul of the rules that clearly reflect the lack of that trust.
People like ourselves just talking about these matters, and hopefully persuading others, by argument and example, why they should consider joining the various movements already underway for reforming this and other aspects of the present system. And by persuading them that if the changes are to be made piecemeal, they will be no more effective for the future than most piecemeal changes made in the past have turned out to be.
And by trying to persuade those who are taken in by the “coddling crooks” faction that more crooks have been coddled by not trusting that a jury will be able to sort out the truth than by preventing them from examining everything that the rest of us are free to examine who are NOT on that jury. How weird is that, by the way?
And by reminding people that “coddling crooks” is for the most part a red-herring buzzphrase to divert attention from the real issues involved in any of these reform movements. Change is of course painful to those with vested interests in the status quo.
First, people need to be taught from an early age that everything any politician ever says is, to a greater or lesser extent, not simply untrue but a lie. This lesson should not be presented in any way as an admonishment of such tactics, but as a simple fact of life.
Did you see what the Florida Legislature just, in its wisdom decreed?
as part of an education bill signed into law by Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida has declared that “American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed.” That factual history, the law states, shall be viewed as “knowable, teachable, and testable.”
What do you think of that - No building a theory about what was happening when Just the facts Maam. Ugh