Lawyer for Desai says wife is now doctor’s legal guardian

The wife of the doctor at the center of the 2007 hepatitis outbreak is now the legal guardian over her husband, Dr. Dipak Desai’s lawyer said in court Tuesday.

Defense attorney Richard Wright said Kusum Desai has been signing the doctor’s documents and has legal guardianship over the doctor.

Wright has said in court papers that a July 2008 stroke left Desai with a "cognitive impairment" that diminished his ability to assist his lawyers and left him incompetent to stand trial.

Dipak Desai appeared Tuesday with his wife before District Judge Jackie Glass. The doctor walked in unassisted and showing no emotion. During the 10-minute hearing, Dipak Desai was stoic as he sat at the defense counsel’s table. He stared straight ahead during most of the hearing, occasionally shuffling his feet but saying nothing.

Meanwhile, prosecutors, who have challenged the doctor’s incompetency claims, continued their efforts to obtain Dipak Desai’s medical records so that an independent evaluation can be done.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Mike Staudaher said Tuesday that he still seeks records from the University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center, where the doctor received cognitive and speech pathology treatment after his stroke.

Wright said he would verify that all the medical records from local psychiatrist Dr. Norton Roitman, who treated Dipak Desai in June 2009, have been turned over.

Glass scheduled a Nov. 23 status check in the case to verify that all relevant medical records have been obtained. The judge waived Dipak Desai’s appearance at the next hearing. In July, District Judge Donald Mosley ordered the criminal case against the doctor transferred to Glass to oversee the medical evaluations. Glass handles all issues involving the competency of defendants in District Court.

Dipak Desai, 60, a gastroenterologist who gave up his license to practice medicine after the outbreak, is scheduled to stand trial March 14 on several felony charges, including racketeering, insurance fraud and neglect of patients. Two of his former nurse anesthetists, Keith Mathahs and Ronald Lakeman, also are charged in the case.

The charges revolve around the health cases of seven people authorities say were infected in 2007 with the potentially deadly hepatitis C virus at Desai’s Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada.

If the medical evaluations show that the doctor is competent to assist his lawyers, Glass will transfer his case back to Mosley.

Contact reporter Francis McCabe at fmccabe@review or 702-380-1039.

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