Hepatitis C case files to change hands

The Las Vegas medical clinics linked to a hepatitis C outbreak must turn over financial records to a group of lawyers representing patients infected with the disease, a judge ordered Tuesday.

District Judge Allan Earl had ordered the records transfer in May, but lawyers for the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada and the Gastroenterolgy Center of Nevada fought the decision, including two failed attempts to persuade the Nevada Supreme Court to intervene.

Earl warned clinic lawyers about further delays.

"I don't want foot-dragging," he said sternly.

The clinics' lawyers must hand over bank records from February 2007 until the clinics closed earlier this year. They also must turn over the clinics' general accounting ledgers for the same period.

Both clinics closed in the spring after local and federal health officials linked hepatitis C infections to improper injection practices by nurse anesthetists. Health officials have connected nine infections to two locations and identified another 105 cases as "possibly associated" with the clinics.

Michael Lynch, a lawyer representing the clinics, had argued against the records release.

"This is a reach, a very extensive reach into a very intrusive area," he said.

Robert Cottle, whose firm represents several thousand clinic patients, argued the financial documents were crucial to his cases because the companies' owners have taken the Fifth Amendment during depositions.

"This might be our only opportunity to see the inner workings of these clinics," Cottle said.

Lawyer Ed Bernstein added that the documents could identify more drug suppliers and other potential defendants.

Earl ordered the two sides to hammer out a confidentiality agreement and complete the records transfer within the next two weeks.

"I don't want to sound like a Grinch, but get it done by the end of the year," Earl said.