Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Court to subpoena medical records

MARTINSBURG — A Berkeley County judge agreed Monday that a court-ordered subpoena should be issued for the medical records of the former local attorney charged with murdering his ex-wife after his defense lawyer said he was still having trouble obtaining the documents.

“We need the medical records. I’ve been trying to get them for at least the past four to six weeks,” defense attorney Craig Manford told Berkeley County Circuit Court Judge David Sanders. “I’m just really frustrated. They are vital for our defense.”

Manford is representing 58-year-old Stephen R. Fielder, of Bunker Hill, who was indicted in February on one count of murder by a Berkeley County grand jury.

The badly decomposed and dismembered body of the Stephen Fielder’s ex-wife, 49-year-old Debra Ann Fielder, was found stuffed into suitcases and dumped in Back Creek last August.

Stephen Fielder was later charged with murder following an investigation conducted by the West Virginia State Police and the Eastern Panhandle Drug and Violent Crime Task Force. He pleaded not guilty in March and is still scheduled to got trial July 31.

“I’m having some difficulty and wanted to bring it to the court’s attention early. I’m still trying to get medical records. We’re working on establishing a diminished capacity defense,” Manford said. “I know this court detests continuances.”

Manford later added that he was exploring a number of possible defenses.

Diminished capacity, in legal terms, refers to a person’s mental health. Manford has previously said that his client suffered a number of stokes over the past several years.

Manford wants the records to explore the possibility that Stephen Fielder may have sustained neurological damage as a result of the strokes. Manford first told the court about his difficulty obtaining his client’s medical records at a status hearing two weeks ago.

The problem lies with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA). The law protects patient privacy rights. Despite submitting two waivers requesting the release of his client’s medical records, Manford said he still has not received them. It’s ironic, because there is an exception to the law for law enforcement and the criminal justice system.

“You’re still having difficulty obtaining your client’s medical records,” Sanders asked Manford at one point.

“Yes Judge. I swear to God,” Manford responded.

Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely said that state did not object a subpoena being issued for the records and said that it was an issue between the defense and the court.

“This is a defense issue solely,” she said.

Games-Neely did say, however, that the state will object if Manford attempts to subpoena the victim’s medical records, an issue that will likely be raised at a pre-trial hearing scheduled for later this month.

With Manford still unable to obtain his client’s medical records, Sanders ultimately agreed that a subpoena be issued.

Stephen Fielder faces life in prison if convicted.

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