More MS news articles for September 2002

Reprieve on a judge's error

The reprieve may spare chronic pain patient Richard Paey an automatic 25-year prison term for drug trafficking. His attorney hopes to avoid a new trial.

August 31, 2002 Saturday
St. Petersburg Times

NEW PORT RICHEY - A chronic pain patient who faced a minimum of 25 years in prison for drug trafficking - he wrote fraudulent prescriptions to feed his addiction to medications - won a reprieve Friday when a judge ordered a new trial. Richard Paey's trial in early July was marred by legal error, Senior Judge Robert Beach ruled.

The error: Judge Beach's.

Beach ruled that he had failed to follow the law when he allowed the trial to proceed after jury selection despite a psychologist's testimony that Paey was incompetent.

By law, Beach should have stopped the proceedings immediately and summoned two mental health experts to evaluate Paey, 43, of Hudson. Then the judge should have conducted a full-blown competency hearing.

Instead, Beach rejected the psychologist's testimony after hearing from Paey's two doctors. The judge ruled that Paey, who nodded off during portions of jury selection, was malingering and possibly overmedicating to create an appearance of incompetence.

The judge's ruling on Friday provided Paey with the only legal way out of a minimum mandatory 25-year prison sentence.

A jury convicted Paey of eight counts of trafficking in oxycodone. Equally significant was that Paey had obtained more than 28 grams, about 1 ounce, of oxycodone illegally. That pushed him into Florida's toughest sentencing category for drug traffickers - even though there is no evidence that Paey ever sold painkillers to anyone else.

Paey, who earned an Ivy League law degree, became hooked on painkillers after botched back surgery in the mid 1980s. When he couldn't find doctors to write high-dosage prescriptions, he turned to a copy machine. Prosecutors say Paey used fraudulent prescriptions to obtain more than 1,000 pills from local pharmacies.

On Friday, a bailiff brought Paey, who also suffers from multiple sclerosis, into the courtroom in a wheelchair. Paey now has a morphine pump hooked into his stomach to deaden his pain.

After ordering a new trial, Judge Beach set Paey's bail at $1-million. Defense attorney Bob Attridge said the goal now is to avoid another trial, which would again expose Paey to an automatic 25-year sentence.

"We'll try to get with the state and see if something can be worked out prior to trial," Attridge said. "It's obvious that Richard is a chronic pain patient who doesn't deserve 25 years in prison."

Before trial, Paey rejected several plea bargain offers from prosecutors. One offer would have allowed Paey to serve house arrest and probation and avoid prison altogether.

Assistant State Attorney Scott Andringa said Friday that prosecutors would seek to retry Paey.

© Copyright 2002 Times Publishing Company