Anne Mitchell, an administrative nurse at the Winkler County Memorial Hospital, assumed she was simply upholding her professional obligation when she blew the whistle on a doctor at the hospital whom she felt was improperly prescribing medications and performing bad surgeries. However, knowing she could face backlash in the close-knit oil community in Texas, she didn’t sign her complaint letter. What she didn’t realize was that the doctor was close friends with the county sheriff and when the doctor learned of the anonymous complaint against him, he quickly turned to his friend for help.
Doctor Rolando G. Arafiles Jr. has a history of inappropriate behavior. In fact, he performed a failed skin graft in the emergency room without surgical privileges. Furthermore, he also sutured a rubber finger tip to a patient’s crushed finger “for protection”, a move that was later flagged as inappropriate by the Texas Department of State Health Services. Nevertheless, when Dr. Arafiles complained to the county sheriff, a man who credits the doctor with saving his life after a heart attack, the sheriff obtained a search warrant and seized Anne’s computer where the letter was saved.
Anne will stand trial in Texas state court beginning today on “misuse of official information”, a third-degree felony her state with a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. The prosecutor argues that he intends to show that Anne has a history of making “inflammatory” statements about Dr. Arafiles. A second nurse, Vickilyn Galle, who helped Anne write the anonymous complaint letter, was also involved in the case, but was dismissed at the prosecutor’s discretion. Both sides agree that the case has polarized theTexas community—so much so that the judge moved the trial to a neighboring county. The State and National nurse associations have called the prosecution an “outrage” and have raised $40,000 for Anne’s defense.
For another perspective on this issue, check out this story by attorney Lee Tilson who discusses the silence by the medical community about this case.
recently named in the 2009 edition of Best Lawyer's In America, David Mittleman has been representing seriously injured people since 1985. A partner with Church Wyble PC—a division of Grewal Law PLLC—Mr. Mittleman and his partners focus on medical malpractice, wrongful death, car accidents, slip and falls, nursing home injury, pharmacy/pharmacist negligence and disability claims.