The attractive, diminutive woman who drove into my driveway on the last Saturday in October hardly looked to be the person that federal authorities desperately were trying to find a way to throw into prison. Her lovely eyes had a sparkle in them, and she hardly looked to be a threat to the life and liberty of anyone.
Yet, here was a woman coming into my home who was being targeted by the feds because she had the audacity to openly question the Drug War in general and the government’s war on people taking pain medications and the doctors that prescribe them. There is one thing that federal prosecutors and judges hate, and that is anyone who openly says that they are doing something that is immoral is a threat that cannot be ignored.
Our visit was short, unfortunately, because of family business, and I would have loved for this visit to have gone on for hours. But, it ultimately ended, and she and her son got back into the car and drove to her home in Ohio. I never would see her again, as she died Christmas Eve in a small plane crash near Circleville, Ohio.
Even now, it is hard to believe she is gone, and for the many people she helped and befriended, their loss is incalculable. Siobhan Reynolds was a vital person in the lives of many because she was one of the few people in this country who was willing to stand up and openly support drug-based relief for the millions of people in the United States who suffer from debilitating pain.
Federal officials, and especially those whose careers are tied directly to the Drug War and to the prosecutions of doctors that write prescriptions for pain medications, would disagree with my assertions that Reynolds was a hero, and I am sure that more than a few of them are happy that she no longer lives. (And, no, I don’t believe that the feds were responsible for the crash, as it seems to have been an error by the pilot, who crashed short of the airport runway.)
Even though Reynolds had committed no crime (except for having the effrontery of publicly questioning the validity of a federal prosecutor’s case), she was the victim of an ongoing federal grand jury probe into her life and into a pain patient advocacy group, the Pain Relief Network, that she once ran and the feds forced into bankruptcy through vindictive fines. The worst thing about the government’s faux “investigation,” however, was that it was done under the color of “government secrecy” in which legal experts agreed that federal prosecutor Tanya Treadway utterly abused the grand jury process.
How she got to that point in her life where the government was trying to destroy her is an important story in itself, and one that I shall tell here. In the beginning, Siobhan Reynolds was not an activist and certainly not an activist who bravely would challenge federal prosecutors who are used to having no accountability at all, least of all from lowly citizens who might deem themselves “worthy” to question the veracity and tactics of those who abuse the law.
Reynolds had a husband, Sean, who had a serious health problem, a congenital connective tissue disorder that left him with debilitating pain in his joints. Like so many others in the USA who suffer from severe chronic pain, he was unable to receive adequate medical relief because the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, not doctors, determine what is a “legitimate medical purpose” for prescribing of opioids for pain. However, Siobhan’s husband finally found a physician, Dr. William Hurwitz, a doctor in Northern Virginia, who was willing to write prescriptions for higher doses of pain-killers.
The higher doses worked, and for the first time in years, Siobhan’s husband was able to function at a much more normal level, but such satisfactory results were anathema to the nation’s drug warriors, and especially to U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty, the Religious Right federal prosecutor who might have publicly proclaimed his Christian beliefs, but did not carry them to his line of work.
I have detailed McNulty’s escapades in this earlier article, including what he did to Dr. Hurwitz, but the smarminess of what McNulty did bears repeating. First, in violation of the Rules of Conduct both of the Federal Bar and the Virginia Bar, McNulty made a number of inflammatory pre-trial statements about Dr. Hurwitz, likening him to a drug “kingpin,” and calling his office a “pill mill.” The Beltway media, of course, lapped up McNulty’s missives, thus ensuring that it would be almost impossible for Dr. Hurwitz to receive a fair trial. Radley Balko writes:
The judge acknowledged that Hurwitz ran a legitimate practice and had likely saved and improved the lives of countless people. His crime was not recognizing that some of his patients were addicts and dealers.
McNulty got his cherished conviction in federal court, but not before appealing to the DEA to withdraw the agency’s new policies on how doctors should determine doses for pain-killers. (The Hurwitz defense was going to use the new DEA policies to demonstrate he was operating within government guidelines, something the “win-at-all-costs” McNulty could not stand.)
(McNulty ultimately used this and other such cases to rocket his career to the number two position in the U.S. Department of Justice. He held that position until he was forced to resign after making “false statements” to Congress about the firing of a number of U.S. attorneys. Enjoying that legal double standard reserved for federal officials, McNulty did not have to endure any legal consequences for not telling the truth while under oath. Instead, he went to an international law firm and now is a very wealthy man.)
Dr. Hurwitz, his life and medical practice shattered, his family destroyed, and his future in prison, was not the only victim of McNulty’s viciousness. (While in prison, Dr. Hurwitz developed an eye disorder, and because of the lack of decent medical care provided for federal inmates, he became blind in one eye.) Patients suffering from chronic pain – people who at best McNulty considered to be “collateral damage” – found themselves in a desperate situation. The Hurwitz prosecution not only kept him from writing prescriptions, but other doctors did not want to experience the same fate and refused to adequately treat certain patients for pain.
One of the side effects of chronic pain is high blood pressure, and ultimately Siobhan’s husband succumbed to the pain and other effects and died. (When I introduced my wife to Siobhan, I said that Paul McNulty killed her husband – and I meant every word.) Reynolds did not go quietly, however, and started her organization, PRN, to help educate doctors about pain medications and also to serve as a resource for attorneys representing doctors being prosecuted for writing pain prescriptions that the government claimed “served no medical purpose.”
When someone challenges America’s prosecutorial police state, the authorities take notice, and Reynolds soon was in the feds’ sights. Keep in mind that Reynolds was trying to stay within the bounds of acceptable medical care and to be an advocate for people suffering chronic pain, but the feds were not interested in what might be true. Instead, they only were (and are) interested in throwing as many people into prison and destroying as many lives as possible, all while posing as the “good guys.”
In a recent article, Lew Rockwell accurately depicted what is going on with federal criminal law in which government agents can target whom they please and simply make the person disappear, all under “color of law.” He writes:
Today, every single citizen, no matter how free he or she may feel in daily life, is in reality a sitting duck. You can be made to disappear. There is essentially no way you can escape once the feds sweep you into their net. There is no justice. The total states of the past used to pretend to have trial-based convictions. The total state of the present doesn’t even bother. It just puts a sack over your head and takes you away.
Indeed, that is what happened to William Hurwitz and a large number of other doctors who committed the “crime” of believing their patients when they said they were in pain. There were no kickbacks for them, no under-the-table payments, no relations with drug dealers. And none of that matters.
McNulty and other federal prosecutors, with the help of federal judges who constantly have ruled in favor of the feds ever since the Progressive Era, have effectively destroyed the historical Anglo-American legal doctrine of mens rea, which is defined as: an element of criminal responsibility, a guilty mind; a guilty or wrongful purpose; a criminal intent. Guilty knowledge and wilfulness. One can understand why a “win-at-all-costs” prosecutor would want mens rea eviscerated, as the elimination of this doctrine would mean that more individuals could be caught in the snare of a prosecutorial witch hunt.
(One of the ironies here is that although McNulty made sure that the mens rea standard did not apply to people he prosecuted, he was given a free pass after giving Congress false statements because he claimed he had been “out of the loop” and did not realize that some of his comments were false. In other words, “Mens rea for me, but not for thee.”)
To make matters worse, federal prosecutors have agitated for years for Congress and the courts to ensure that many laws are as vague as possible, so that a person would not have clear boundaries within which to act. For example, insider trading law has been written in an intentionally-confusing manner in which there is no “statutory definition” of insider trading. This is a plus for prosecutors because they can target people who never can be sure if they are breaking the law or not.
This means that federal juries are left in the unenviable position of having to determine whether or not the law was broken in the first place, something jurors simply are no equipped to do. In the situation of writing pain-medication prescriptions that, according to the government, “have no medical purpose,” there is no law or no outright policy that is clear, which leaves doctors always wondering if they are next to be prosecuted, and places prosecutors in the driver’s seat.
Federal prosecutors are free to demonize doctors publicly, call them “drug dealers” or operators of “pill mills,” and their statements NEVER are scrutinized in the mainstream media. The doctor is guilty even before the trial begins, and even if a physician is acquitted, federal agencies effectively can ruin the person’s reputation and career. Furthermore, as the federal Reign of Terror expands, doctors protect themselves by writing as few pain prescriptions as they can in hopes of avoiding the federal “Eye of Sauron.”
That thousands of people are unable to gain relief is of no consequence to federal officials, who are interested only in convicting as many people as possible, which then is a boost to careerist prosecutors and government agents. These are people who literally advance their own pay, benefits, and power upon the backs of doctors and their patients, and in the case of Siobhan’s husband, the results were fatal.
(Not that Paul McNulty or any of his other prosecutorial minions cared what happened to Sean Reynolds or his widow and their child. These are people who enjoy inflicting trauma upon others and who love to exercise their absolute powers, knowing that no matter how dishonest or outrageous their conduct might be, they never have to fear being punished for their own lawbreaking, as the Congress and the federal courts have granted them “total immunity.”)
Reynolds was a godsend not only to patients and their families, but also to doctors and their loved ones who were watching the Paul McNultys of the world unjustly turn their lives upside down. She became involved in a number of such cases elsewhere in the country, helping some doctors to be acquitted and watching others lose at trial and go to prison.
Helping people defend themselves against federal prosecutors and vague laws is a sure way to attract the enmity of the State, and after she became involved in a case against a doctor and his wife in Kansas, the State struck back. U.S. Attorney Tanya Treadway opened an “obstruction of justice” investigation against Reynolds, destroying the Pain Relief Network in the process. To make matters worse, Treadway was able to convince the courts(which don’t need much convincing when federal prosecutors wish to abuse innocent people) to make the entire process secret, including any statements from Reynolds herself.
Grand jury secrecy is supposed to protect people being investigated, but in this situation, Treadway was able to use secrecy to protect herself and to destroy Reynolds, and the courts up to the U.S. Supreme Court agreed that secrecy was fine with them, which a former federal prosecutor says is an utter abuse of the grand jury. The tactics worked, and not only was Siobhan forced to shut down the Pain Relief Network, but she also was facing the possibility of contrived criminal charges up until the moment of her death.
There are many things that we can learn from the life and death of Siobhan Reynolds. Surely one of the worst things is that in the United States of America, federal prosecutors nearly are invincible, not because of any good that they do, but rather because they have become a law unto themselves. We also have learned that the State bows to no one, and that right and wrong are not standards at all because the State always is right, even when it is wrong.
Yet, we also can know that in our midst, there are people who are willing to stand up and be counted, and Siobhan Reynolds was one of them. She was a great person and her legacy goes on even though she no longer walks among us. Hers is a legacy of integrity and courage and that is the best lesson of all.
December 31, 2011
William L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him mail], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland, and is an adjunct scholar of theLudwig von Mises Institute. He also is a consultant with American Economic Services. Visit his blog.