Anna Nicole Smith's two doctors and her lawyer-boyfriend pleaded not guilty Friday to drug conspiracy charges, and a judge rejected a belated move by the state attorney general and a medical board to suspend the physicians' medical licenses.
Dr. Sandeep Kapoor, Dr. Khristine Eroshevich and Howard K. Stern are accused of conspiring to illegally provide the former Playboy model with sedatives and opiates before she died. They are not charged with causing her death.
Superior Court Judge David Wesley rejected the effort to lift the medical licenses of Kapoor and Eroshevich, saying a yearslong delay in seeking that action undermined the claim of an imminent danger to the public if the doctors continued to practice.
"If there was an imminent threat to the public, why wasn't this done?" the judge asked Deputy Attorney General E.A. Jones III.
Jones cited several reasons why the California Medical Board did not act earlier.
Among them, he said, "we did not want to interfere with the district attorney's investigation of the case."
Jones said testimony at the preliminary hearing supported the medical board request to suspend the licenses of Kapoor and Eroshevich and have them surrender their prescription forms for controlled substances.
"The defendants haven't been convicted yet," the judge reminded him.
Wesley said if the board was concerned with the doctors' practices, it could apply for an order to monitor them.
He set a tentative trial date of Feb. 5 but indicated that would be a time for hearing pretrial motions.
Outside court, Kapoor's lawyer Ellyn Garafalo said she was pleased with the ruling but troubled by the medical board's action.
"This case is being treated differently than any case, and this is about publicity," she said.
Attorney Adam Braun, who represents Eroshevich, said the allegations against her relate to one patient, Smith, years ago and "there is no reason to prevent her from practicing."
He said actions relating to the doctors' practices should await a jury's decision on the charges.
Smith died of an accidental overdose of at least nine medications in February 2007 at a Florida hotel.
The defendants were not charged until this year. In October, they were ordered to stand trial after a three-week preliminary hearing that delved deeply into Smith's troubled life and the alleged role of the defendants in her drug addiction as they were swept up in her celebrity world.
The defense lawyers contended their clients did not know Smith was an addict and argued the they tried desperately to save the depressed model in her waning years, including a period when she gave birth to a daughter and lost her grown son to a drug overdose.