The US Court of Appeals in US v. Ignasiak, 667 F. 3d 1217 – Court of Appeals, 11th Circuit 2012 reversed the conviction of a physician for health care fraud (dispensing controlled substances.)

The court found that the government improperly withheld crucial information about a medical expert who “regularly” testified for the government.

The court stated:

To briefly provide background, several months after Ignasiak’s conviction, the government filed a pleading under seal in the District Court entitled “Government’s In Camera Notice to the Court” (the “Notice”), along with an affidavit from one of the trial prosecutors, Assistant United States Attorney (“AUSA”) Benjamin Beard. The Notice revealed for the first time that Dr. Jordan engaged in criminal conduct beginning at an unspecified time up to and continuing until 2006. Specifically, Dr. Jordan had, on nine separate occasions, used a counterfeit badge and his United States Marshal credentials to pose as an on-duty U.S. Marshal in order to carry firearms on commercial airplanes while on personal travel. On the ninth flight, a Transportation and Security Administration (“TSA”) agent discovered Dr. Jordan’s ploy, and seized the weapons, counterfeit badge, and Marshal Service credentials. The South Dakota U.S. Attorney’s Office opened an investigation of Dr. Jordan. Although Dr. Jordan had engaged in similar criminal conduct at least eight times before, thereby committing multiple violations of 18 U.S.C. §§ 912 and 1001 and 49 U.S.C. § 46505, the South Dakota U.S. Attorney allowed Dr. Jordan to enter into a “pre-trial diversion agreement” in which Dr. Jordan paid $2,000 and agreed not to carry any concealed weapons except while on official business.

Thus, while it is true that Dr. Jordan’s privacy interests sit on one side of the balance, it is “the interest of the public in accessing the information” that rests on the other. Id. And, in this case, the public has a great interest in learning the contents of the Notice—namely, learning the highly material fact that Dr. Jordan, a repeat government expert witness, abused his government authority and committed acts which could have been charged as felonies. To say that the defense would have preferred to use this information to discredit Dr. Jordan’s testimony is almost certainly an understatement.

Perhaps ironically, by arguing that there was no Brady violation in this case because the AUSA prosecuting Ignasiak was unaware of Dr. Jordan’s history, it is actually the government that most persuasively highlights the value in unsealing the Notice. Indeed, should the Notice remain sealed, the significant likelihood is that in the next CSA prosecution in which Dr. Jordan testifies as an expert, both the prosecuting AUSA and the defense counsel will again be unaware of the highly relevant impeachment evidence contained in the Notice. And in that case, as in this one, should the truth ever come to light, the government could again point to its own ignorance and claim immunity from Brady error. Stated this way, we would have expected the government to condemn, rather than condone, such a problematic outcome.

Indeed, the government correctly points to two categories of witnesses whose privacy interests are understandably paramount: victims in sex crime cases and criminal informants. Dr. Jordan is neither. Rather, he is an expert witness who, at a rate of $300/hour, voluntarily accepted employment which required him to testify against Ignasiak. Indeed, Dr. Jordan testified that he has been paid “around” $30,000 for his service as the government’s expert in this and other cases. While the fact of his paid status does not make him amenable to any sort of unfair or immaterial character attack, it does greatly reduce, if not altogether eviscerate, his expectation to keep impeachment evidence private. The government is thus right that courts should protect witnesses like Dr. Jordan from “unwarranted invasion” into their privacy. But we cannot agree that impeachment evidence concerning a highly compensated and voluntarily appearing expert witness is either “unwarranted” or an “invasion” into that witness’s privacy.