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Court rules Limbaugh medical records were seized properly

Prosecutors took files during investigation of radio host's use of prescription pain medication
/ Source: The Associated Press

Rush Limbaugh’s medical records were properly seized by investigators seeking information on alleged illegal drug use, an appeals court ruled Wednesday.

State investigators had raided the offices of Limbaugh’s doctors seeking information on whether the conservative radio commentator illegally “doctor shopped” to obtain pain pills from multiple doctors. Limbaugh, 53, has not been charged with a crime and the investigation had been at a standstill pending a decision on the medical records.

The court rejected Limbaugh’s arguments that his privacy rights trumped investigators’ power to seize his records and said prosecutors did not have to notify him of search warrants or give him an opportunity to challenge them.

“The state’s authority to seize such records by a validly issued search warrant is not affected by any right of privacy in such records,” a three-judge panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal ruled.

Prosecutors went after Limbaugh’s medical records after learning that he received about 2,000 painkillers, prescribed by four doctors in six months, at a pharmacy near his Palm Beach mansion.

Limbaugh admitted his addiction to pain medication last October, saying it stemmed from severe back pain. He took a five-week leave from his radio show to enter a rehabilitation program.

'A fishing expedition'
“This was a fishing expedition from the outset to see if there was anything they could find to charge me with,” Limbaugh said on his Wednesday afternoon radio show. “There was no doctor shopping but it was my contention all along that I shouldn’t have to give up my right to privacy to prove my innocence. That’s not the way it works in this country.”

Limbaugh could ask all 12 members of the 4th District to rehear the case or he could appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.

State Attorney Barry Krischer, a Democrat who’s been accused by Limbaugh of having political motivations in the case, said the appellate ruling validates the investigation and will allow the case to move forward.

“This office did not violate any of Mr. Limbaugh’s rights, constitutional or statutory, but to the contrary acted in accord with Florida law,” Krischer said.

Limbaugh’s attorney argued before the appellate court in April that investigators should have provided some notice they were going to seize records containing private information, instead of using search warrants and giving Limbaugh no chance to challenge the seizure.

“The Legislature said you can’t do a wholesale seizure and hope to find evidence of a crime,” attorney Roy Black said at the April hearing. “You’d have to stand privacy on its head.”

But prosecutors insisted that giving notice would have compromised their investigation.

Limbaugh said he was encouraged by the partial dissent by Judge Melanie G. May, who said the case should be returned to the trial court. Limbaugh referred to her statement that the other two judges kept their “eyes wide shut” to some privacy concerns.

“She clearly recognized that the state cannot trump a patient’s right to privacy in medical matters,” Limbaugh said. “The issue here goes beyond me actually. It goes to the privacy of everyone’s medical records.”