Chilling her softly: the secret silencing of a pain treatment activist.

Author:Sullum, Jacob
Position:Columns - Siobhan Reynolds
 
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BY SPEAKING out in defense of a Kansas doctor and nurse accused of running a "pill mill," pain treatment activist Siobhan Reynolds annoyed the federal prosecutor assigned to the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Tanya Treadway was so angry that in April 2008 she sought a court order telling Reynolds to shut up. Concluding that such an order would be an unconstitutional prior restraint of speech, U.S. District Judge Monti Belot said no.

But by the time Belot sentenced the defendants, Stephen and Linda Schneider, last October, he was so irritated by Reynolds' advocacy that he could not contain himself. He said he hoped the harsh sentences--three decades each--would "curtail or stop the activities of the Bozo the Clown outfit known as the Pain [Relief] Network, a ship of fools if there ever was one."

Reynolds, who founded the Pain Relief Network (PRN) in 2003 to highlight the chilling effect of drug law enforcement on the practice of medicine, evidently has a talent for getting under the skin of people in power. But that is not a crime. By treating it as such, Treadway used grand jury secrecy to cloak an unconstitutional vendetta.

After Treadway failed to obtain a gag order silencing Reynolds, she instigated a grand jury investigation of her for obstruction of justice, obtaining subpoenas that demanded material related to PRN's activism. Reynolds unsuccessfully challenged Treadway's fishing expedition on First Amendment grounds, and last November the Supreme Court declined to hear her appeal. Perhaps the Court was impressed by the reasoning of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. We can't judge for ourselves, because the appeals court's decision is sealed, like almost every other document related to Reynolds' case.

The extraordinary secrecy is far broader than necessary to protect the confidentiality of grand jury proceedings, extending even to a friend-of-the-court brief, based entirely on publicly available information, that was filed in December 2009 by the Institute for Justice and the Reason Foundation, the organization that publishes this magazine. Furthermore, one of the main justifications for grand jury secrecy--that it protects...

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