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Judge considers request for delay of Desai trial

Defense lawyers pushed hard Tuesday to delay this month’s long-awaited trial of Dr. Dipak Desai and two nurse anesthetists on criminal charges in the hepatitis C outbreak.

After listening to an hour of arguments, District Judge Valerie Adair, who has resisted continuing the case, promised a decision on Thursday.

The attorneys asked to push back the Oct. 22 trial date for six months, saying they are not prepared to move forward because of the massive amount of evidence to review.

"I cannot give effective assistance of counsel to Dr. Desai going to trial on Oct. 22," Desai’s lead lawyer, Richard Wright, told Adair.

Prosecutors appeared willing to agree to a continuance as long as a "drop dead date" would be selected with no more delays.

But Adair said she needed more time to consider delaying the trial, telling the two sides that they were putting her in a "difficult" position.

"I thought we had a drop dead date," she said.

Adair said that she already has cleared her calender the rest of the year to accommodate what she expects will be a two-month trial.

"This is a case that really cries out for a public airing one way or another," she told the lawyers.

Desai, 62, who sat on a bench behind the lawyers as they argued, looked straight ahead throughout the proceeding and showed no emotion.

He and the two nurses, Keith Mathahs, 76, and Ronald Lakeman, 65, face a series of felony charges, including racketeering and patient neglect, stemming from the 2007 outbreak.

The three defendants also face an Oct. 28, 2013, trial before District Judge Stefany Miley on a second-degree murder charge in the death of Rodolfo Meana, a victim of the hepatitis C outbreak.

Defense lawyers also Tuesday asked Adair to consolidate the murder case under her supervision.

A trial delay probably would push back the Nov. 20 federal trial of Desai, who faces conspiracy and health care fraud charges tied to the hepatitis outbreak. Federal prosecutors have indicated they prefer to try Desai and his former office manager after the state charges against Desai are resolved.

The murder indictment accuses Desai and the two nurses of unlawfully "introducing the hepatitis C virus" into Meana’s body while he underwent a colonoscopy in 2007.

Meana, 77, died in April of complications from hepatitis C in his native Philippines. His infection was among seven that health officials genetically linked to Desai’s main clinic, the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada. Officials have said dozens more cases were "possibly linked" to the clinic.

Meana and five other patients contracted hepatitis C through unsafe injection practices Sept. 21, 2007, health officials concluded. Another patient was infected July 25, 2007.

Desai, a gastroenterologist who has since given up his medical license, performed Meana’s colonoscopy and some of the other medical procedures linked to infections at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada.

Mathahs and Lakeman administered the sedative propofol to the infected patients under the questionable injection practices, prosecutors have alleged.

Contact reporter Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-8135.

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