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Justice delayed: Years and years of waiting for Desai trials

“An incompetent lawyer can delay a trial for months or years. A competent lawyer can delay one even longer.”

– Evelle J. Younger, former California attorney general and Los Angeles County district attorney

The strategy employed by the attorneys for disgraced ex-physician Dipak Desai is as obvious as it is frustrating. Delay. Delay again. Then delay some more.

The plan is working perfectly.

Assuming the current schedule holds, Desai finally will go to trial in state court April 22 on charges stemming from the 2007 hepatitis C outbreak that public health officials linked to his endoscopy clinic. Last month, District Judge Valerie Adair granted a third postponement after Desai’s attorneys argued they wouldn’t be prepared for an Oct. 22 trial start.

Meanwhile, in U.S. District Court, both prosecutors and Desai’s attorneys have agreed that a separate federal case should not go to trial until the state proceedings are over “given the commonality of facts,” according to a stipulation filed last week. So U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro moved that trial start from Nov. 20 to May 7.

Pardon us for not holding our breath.

Assuming Desai actually goes to trial in the spring, it will have been nearly six years since seven patients were infected through unsafe injection practices at his clinic. According to public health officials, one patient was infected July 25, 2007, and six were infected Sept. 21, 2007.

Desai and two nurses, Keith Mathahs and Ronald Lakeman, face felony charges including racketeering, insurance fraud and patient neglect. They also face a second-degree murder charge in connection with the death of 77-year-old Rodolfo Meana, who died in April from hepatitis C complications. The allegations against the men are rooted in greed. According to authorities, the medical practice re-tapped single-use vials of anesthesia after they had been contaminated by syringes reused on patients with hepatitis C. Insurers, including government-supported programs, were then overbilled for anesthesia. The federal indictment alleges this scheme lasted more than three years.

All this led to the country’s largest-ever public health notification of its kind, urging tens of thousands of people to be tested immediately for blood-borne disease, and one of the largest criminal investigations in Las Vegas police history. The cost to the public and the reputation of the valley’s medical community has been enormous. But those costs pale in comparison to the suffering of incurably ill victims.

Through it all, Desai, now 62, has done anything to remain free, including a well-orchestrated examination of his competency, after which state medical experts concluded he was exaggerating the effects of strokes. What showmanship.

Yes, these are very complicated cases with huge volumes of evidence. But more than five years to get to trial? World War I was resolved in less time.

Judge Adair warned lawyers last month, “There will be no more continuances.” For the sake of justice, let’s hope so.

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