Jacob Sullum

By publicly defending Stephen and Linda Schneider, a Kansas doctor and nurse accused of running a "pill mill," pain treatment activist Siobhan Reynolds irked the prosecutor assigned to the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Tanya Treadway was so annoyed 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 Schneiders last month, he was so irritated by Reynolds' advocacy on behalf of the couple 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 has 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, including its finances, media strategy and organizational techniques. Among other things, the subpoenas covered communications with the Schneiders, their lawyers and their patients; a PRN video about the conflict between drug control and pain control; and records regarding a PRN-sponsored billboard in Wichita that proclaimed "Dr. Schneider never killed anyone."

Reynolds unsuccessfully challenged Treadway's fishing expedition on First Amendment grounds in U.S. District Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, and this week the Supreme Court declined to hear her appeal. Perhaps the court was impressed by the 10th Circuit's reasoning. We can't judge for ourselves, because the appeals court's decision is sealed, like almost every other document related to Reynolds' case.


Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
 
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