Wichita A Kansas doctor and his wife remained in jail Friday as they waited for a magistrate judge's written decision on whether to release them pending their trial on a federal indictment alleging they ran a "pill mill" linked to at least 56 overdose deaths.
Prosecutors argued that Dr. Stephen Schneider and his wife, Linda, should not be released on bond because they still pose a danger to the community. They cited recorded telephone conversations from jail in which Linda Schneider allegedly threatened Assistant U.S. Attorney Tanya Treadway and her former defense attorney.
The government also contended three more patients died from overdoses of medication prescribed by an assistant at the clinic before it closed. In recorded conversations, the Schneiders also talked about going to Mexico.
Defense attorneys argued that the government's excerpts were taken out of context and that a full hearing of the phone conversations would show that the Schneiders posed no public threat nor that they intended to flee.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Donald Bostwick said he wanted to listen to the entire recorded jail conversations - rather than government excerpts - before ruling on their release.
The couple have been jailed without bond since their December arrest on a 34-count federal indictment alleging conspiracy, unlawful distribution of a controlled substance resulting in death, health care fraud, illegal money transactions and money laundering.
Prosecutors allege in the indictment that the couple directly caused four deaths and contributed to the deaths of 11 other patients.
The Schneiders have pleaded not guilty.
Defense attorneys also said the recorded calls with family members had a "chilling effect" on their jailed clients' Sixth Amendment right for legal representation because they could not freely talk about hiring attorneys or other legal matters in which they needed family to help.
"These are not things that should be in the hands of the government, let alone the press," said Lawrence Williamson, the doctor's attorney.
Treadway argued the telephone recordings from jail were allowed because they served a law enforcement purpose, and that the defendants in effect consented to them because they are told at the beginning of every call that it would be recorded.
The defense attorneys also argued they needed their clients out of jail to help lawyers prepare their defense in a complex case that prosecutors say involves 250 boxes of evidence and 1,050 patient files.
Psychologist Dr. Kerin Schnell also testified that Linda Schneider suffered severe depression and a form of bipolar disorder which causes gradual mental deterioration that was being made worse by her incarceration.
"She doesn't look at all well to me," Schnell told the court.
But Treadway countered that the government has recorded phone conversations in which Linda Schneider and her sister talked about getting a psychologist to testify in order to manipulate the court into releasing her.
In a separate hearing before Judge Wesley Brown earlier Friday, the Schneiders waived their rights to make any future challenge for ineffective counsel.
The move came after the government tried to remove the defense counsel. Prosecutors said the defense counsel had a conflict of interest because of alleged ties to the Pain Relief Network, a patient advocacy group.
U.S. District Court Judge Wesley Brown set a tentative trial date in April 2009. He also cited his own health issues and turned the case over to U.S. District Judge Monti Belot.