ACLU Asks Court to Protect Confidentiality of Rush Limbaugh's Medical Records

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
January 12, 2004 12:00 am

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PALM BEACH, FL - In a motion filed today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida said state law enforcement officers violated Rush Limbaugh's privacy rights by seizing the conservative radio talk show host's medical records as part of a criminal investigation involving alleged ""doctor-shopping.""

""While this case involves the right of Rush Limbaugh to maintain the privacy of his medical records, the precedent set in this case will impact the security of medical records and the privacy of the doctor-patient relationship of every person in Florida,"" said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida.

The ACLU's request to submit a ""friend-of-the-court"" brief on behalf of Limbaugh was filed today with the Fourth District Court of Appeal. The ACLU said in its motion that the state infringed on Florida's constitutional right to privacy when it failed to follow well-established protocol, mandated by law, when confiscating Limbaugh's medical files. The organization stated that its interest in the case was ""to vindicate every Floridian's fundamental right to privacy by ensuring that the state be required to comply"" with the law.

Because of heightened concerns about medical privacy, the Florida Legislature mandated a process - outlined in Sections 456.057(5)(a) and 395.3025(4)(d) of the Florida Statutes - that requires law enforcement officers to notify the person whose medical records they seek to obtain and give that person the opportunity to object before the subpoena is issued and before the records are seized.

""The legislature has enacted procedures that carefully balance the interests of law enforcement against the right of every citizen to maintain the privacy of their communications with their physician,"" said Ft. Lauderdale attorney Jon May, who is serving as counsel for the ACLU. ""In this case the State Attorney has circumvented this carefully crafted scheme. If the state can do this to Rush Limbaugh, then the privacy rights of every citizen in Florida are in jeopardy.""

In October, Limbaugh checked himself into a rehabilitation clinic after telling listeners on his radio program that he is addicted to painkillers. The ACLU has long recognized the need for a viable public health approach for drug control. Criminal prosecutions are the government's primary weapons to stamp out illicit drugs in the ""War on Drugs."" However, the ACLU has maintained that the so-called ""War on Drugs"" has led to a dramatic increase in the nation's prison population, while doing little to curb the drug trade. The organization believes there are better ways, other than criminal prosecution and incarceration, to address drug abuse that will ultimately lead to a healthier, freer and less crime-ridden society.

""Limbaugh's case demonstrates that the 'War on Drugs' is not working,"" said Anthony Romero, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union. ""This case provides a stark example of how the government chooses to prosecute non-violent drug offenses, rather than provide treatment for drug users.""

The ACLU of Florida's Simon added: ""For many people, it may seem odd that the ACLU has come to the defense of Rush Limbaugh. But we have always said that the ACLU's real client is the Bill of Rights and we will continue to safeguard the values of equality, fairness and privacy for everyone, regardless of race, economic status or political point of view.""

""We have defended the rights of every group on the political spectrum from anti-war protesters and Oliver North to church-state separation activists and Jerry Falwell,"" Simon noted.

The case is Rush Limbaugh v. State of Florida, Case No. 4D03-4973. In addition to May, Randall Marshall, ACLU of Florida's Legal Director, is counsel of record.

To read the ACLU's motion to file an amicus on behalf of Limbaugh, visit:

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