Amid worries that doctors tied to the hepatitis C outbreak might try to hide assets overseas, a district judge on Tuesday ordered two physicians to get court approval for large financial transactions.
District Judge Allan Earl also gave lawyers for patients suing the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada permission to start probing financial records of the clinic and its doctors.
"This is such an extraordinary case that I think extraordinary measures are allowed," Earl said in issuing the rare preliminary injunction.
Lawyer Robert Eglet, who represents hundreds of former clinic patients, said he had never seen such an order in his 20 years of practicing law in Las Vegas.
The judge's order requires Drs. Dipak Desai and Eladio Carrera to get the judge's OK for any financial transactions of $50,000 or more.
Desai was the clinic's majority owner. Carrera owned a minority share.
A Southern Nevada Health District investigation linked each doctor to three patients who contracted hepatitis C because of unsafe injection practices at the clinic. Judges temporarily suspended their medical licenses last week pending District Court hearings scheduled in the coming week.
In issuing his decision, Earl threatened the doctors with "sterner measures" if they tried to skirt his order by using multiple transactions just under the $50,000 limit.
"The bottom line is, don't do it," he said.
Lawyers for Endoscopy Center patients had filed the motion to monitor the doctors' assets to ensure they were available to satisfy potential jury awards. The patients' lawyers don't think the doctors' insurance policies will cover what could be large awards for punitive and other damages for the growing number of infected patients and the thousands of patients who sought blood testing because of possible exposure.
"Without some oversight, supervision and control, by the time we get a verdict here ... there's not going to be any money to collect," said lawyer John Muije, who was hired by Eglet's firm.
If the doctors were allowed to move money overseas, getting to it would be all but impossible, he said.
"I've chased a lot of people for a lot of money over the years, and I've never been able to get a dime out of a Swiss bank account." he said.
To support his argument, Muije referenced recent media reports that Desai tried to move two Mercedes-Benz sedans to Dubai.
Desai's lawyer, Dominique Pollara, called the reports "absolutely baseless." Desai had tried to pay off the leases and sell the cars to a buyer in Houston without knowing what the buyer intended to do with the cars, she said. The sale fell through.
Desai isn't trying to move assets out of the U.S., she said.
"He's a U.S. citizen," she said. "He's a resident of this state and this city. He does not intend to go anywhere."
Arguing on behalf of all the doctors, Pollara called the preliminary injunction unfair because it infringed on their right to use their money without due process.
"It's an unwarranted intrusion on the defendants' property rights," Pollara said. "These physicians have lives to run. They have bills to pay. ... Why should there be such scrutiny and oversight of their personal finances? It's unwarranted."
An Aug. 26 court date was scheduled to revisit the issue and whether the injunction should be extended.
Contact reporter Brian Haynes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0281.