WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Rush Limbaugh's (search) attorney argued Wednesday that investigators trampled the conservative commentator's privacy rights when they made a surprise visit to a doctor's office to seize his medical records.
Limbaugh attorney Roy Black (search) asked a state appeals court to keep the records sealed from prosecutors who accuse the radio host of illegally buying prescription drugs.
Black argued that investigators should have provided some notice they were going to seize records containing private information, but instead used search warrants and gave 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," Black said. "You'd have to stand privacy on its head."
But prosecutor Jim Martz said giving notice would have limited the ability to investigate allegations that Limbaugh illegally "doctor shopped" to obtain pain pills, visiting several doctors to receive duplicate prescriptions. Martz said the Legislature has protected law enforcement's ability to conduct criminal investigations.
Limbaugh, 53, has not been charged with a crime and the investigation is at a standstill pending a decision on the medical records. The 4th District Court of Appeal did not say when it will release a ruling.
Chief Judge Gary M. Farmer asked Limbaugh's attorney how prosecutors should have pursued the case.
"If the search warrant has been approved by the judge, the judge has found that there is evidence indicating that a crime may have been committed and the defendant may have committed it," Farmer said. "That's sufficient to issue the search warrant."
But Black argued that privacy rights call for law enforcement to use the least intrusive means to obtain medical records, and said investigators went too far by using warrants to seize years' worth of records.
The appellate panel asked Martz why prosecutors made a blanket seizure of records from three doctors' offices in Palm Beach County and another in Los Angeles. Judge Carole Y. Taylor asked if the warrants were "narrowly drafted to seize only those records that would relate to the doctor-shopping charge."
Martz said investigators need to examine all the records to compare claims Limbaugh made to his various doctors to determine whether he lied to obtain overlapping prescriptions.
The prosecutor said investigators "did everything in their power" to protect Limbaugh's privacy, but added they could not have warned Limbaugh of the impending seizure.
"Once you notice the target of the investigation that you're looking for that information, how do you guarantee the veracity of that information?" Martz said after the hearing.
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 in October, saying it stemmed from severe back pain. He took a five-week leave from his afternoon radio show to enter a rehabilitation program.
If Limbaugh's appeal succeeds, the criminal case against him could be stalled for good. But if the appeals court sides with prosecutors, the ruling could open the records to officials who have been waiting for months to pursue their case against Limbaugh.
Joining the well-known conservative in his legal battle is the American Civil Liberties Union (search), which argues that the outcome of the case could affect the confidentiality of doctor-patient relationships.