The Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has taken up the case of former Providence Phoenix news editor Phil Eil, suing the US Drug Enforcement Administration to try to gain the release of thousands of pages of court documents in a major drug-prescription trial.
The ACLU said Eil has been stymied for more than three years in trying to obtain the documents.
In a news release, the ACLU said, "The request in question involves the evidence used to convict Dr. Paul Volkman, whom the Department of Justice has called the “largest physician dispenser of oxycodone in the United States from 2003 to 2005.” Volkman was indicted on 22 drug trafficking-related counts in 2007, and, in 2011, after an eight-week federal court trial in Ohio that included 70 witnesses and more than 220 exhibits, he was convicted of, among other charges, prescribing medications that caused the overdose deaths of four patients. In 2012, Volkman was sentenced to four consecutive life terms in federal prison — one of the lengthiest criminal sentences for a physician in U.S. history."
Eil's request for documents has been pending with the DEA for more than 800 days.
According to the ACLU, "In addition to the time it has taken to process the request, the DEA has withheld 87 percent of the 12,724 pages it has thus far processed for Eil’s FOIA request, and stripped most of the substantive information from the remaining 1,600 pages it has 'released. For example, as the lawsuit notes, one of the nine installments of releases to Eil included “a 133-page slide show where the substance from nearly every single slide is redacted.” In another one of the 'partial releases' of information, the DEA withheld 1,225 of 1,232 pages it processed."
In a statement accompanying the ACLU's news release, Eil said, “You can’t have a true democracy without a transparent court system, and this case represents an egregious failure of judicial transparency. The right to a public trial is a basic tenet of our society, and it’s scary to think that any trial in the United States, especially one of this magnitude, would be retroactively sealed off from public view, as this case has.”
The lawsuit comes during Sunshine Week, an event meant to highlight the importance of transparency in government.