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Whistleblowing Nurse Found Not Guilty

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It took jurors in West Texas but an hour to acquit a nurse, Anne Mitchell, who had been charged with a third degree felony after alerting her state medical board about a doctor who she believed was practicing unsafe medicine. The case ignited deep concerns amongst health care workers about the implications of whistleblowing on doctors suspected of medical malpractice.

The prosecution argued that Mrs. Mitchell had a “personal vendetta” against the doctor that she accused of medical malpractice. Mrs. Mitchell originally wrote an anonymous letter to the state medical board over concerns that Dr. Rolando G. Arafiles Jr. was practicing bad medicine at the Winkler County Memorial Hospital where Mitchell and Arafiles both worked. The prosecution contended that she used her position to obtain and disseminate confidential information, patient file numbers, in her letter to the medical board. A move, the prosecutor argued, that violated Texas state law which requires reports of misconduct be made in good faith. Furthermore, the prosecution also argued that Mrs. Mitchell had a “personal vendetta” against Dr. Arafiles since he began working at the hospital in 2008.

Nevertheless, after the four-day trial, Mitchell was relieved to be found not guilty of the charges—charges that carried up to a 10-year prison sentence and fines of up to $10,000. Moreover, the jury of six men and six women voted unanimously on the ballot and the jury foreman even added that the jury wondered why Mrs. Mitchell had ever been arrested in the first place. One juror, a high school custodian, was quoted as saying: “we just didn’t see the wrongdoing of sending the file numbers in, since she’s a nurse.” After the trial, Mrs. Mitchell stated: “It’s a duty to every nurse to take care of patients”, as she wiped away her tears.