There was a tiny amount of good news last week for Bernard Rottschaefer, the former Plum doctor who was convicted nearly three years ago for prescribing narcotics to his patients in exchange for sex.
Originally sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison, Rottschaefer, 64, was re-sentenced Feb. 9 to five years by U.S. District Court Judge Gary Lancaster. Rottschaefer was convicted in March 2004 of 153 counts of illegally issuing prescription painkillers to five women.
Rottschaefer won the re-sentencing because the federal guidelines originally used to sentence him were later ruled unconstitutional. He has been free on bond while appealing his conviction. Rottschaefer will remain free until the Federal Bureau of Prisons decides in the next four to six weeks which minimum-security prison will house him, according to one of his attorneys, Thomas J. Farrell
The hope, Farrell says, is that Rottschaefer will be designated to the minimum-security prison near Morgantown. While the BOP tries to house inmates near their homes, doing so is largely dependent on space availability, Farrell says.
If Rottschaefer receives time off for good behavior, Farrell says, he will likely serve about three years and 10 months in prison. Rottschaefer would then likely serve the last six months of his sentence in a halfway house.
Rottschaefer's case has garnered national attention because after the trial, evidence surfaced that a key witness against him lied so she could make a deal on her own criminal drug case. All but one of the five patients testifying against Rottschaefer got breaks on their own drug cases. (See City Paper Main Feature, "Bitter Pills," May 25, 2006.)
Rottschaefer has appealed his case all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to hear his appeal in October 2006. However, shortly after that decision, Rottschaefer filed yet another motion for a new trial. This time, he claimed that during depositions in a related civil lawsuit against the doctor, the former patients gave testimony that contradicted their trial testimony.
Lancaster has since denied that motion, writing, "[T]here was sufficient evidence independent of the patients' testimony to uphold Rottschaefer's conviction." Rottschaefer's appellate attorney, Eli Stutsman, has decided to appeal that ruling to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that Lancaster abused his judicial discretion in not granting Rottschaefer a new trial.
Stutsman has not yet filed his brief outlining the basis for the appeal. However, Farrell says the appeal, which could take six to eight months, will be a difficult process.
"Appeals are an uphill battle anyway," Farrell says. "In this case the [grounds for] appeal, abuse of discretion, is a tough standard to prevail on because the appellate court usually defers to what the trial court already ruled.
"However, we're still hopeful that a new trial can be won."