Whistleblowing nurse could face 10 years in prison

February 10, 2010 4:05:55 AM PST
Whistleblowers are credited with helping expose great wrongs in America and protecting people. A nurse from a small Texas town thought blowing the whistle on a doctor would protect patients. That nurse faces ten years in prison for her actions and her case could have long term consequences.

Whistleblowers helped bring about the fall of the once mighty Enron and even a president. But those people never ended up on trial like Anne Mitchell, the nurse from the tiny town of Kermit, Texas. A jury will decide whether to send Mitchell to prison for ten years for sending an anonymous letter to the Texas Medical Board.

Mitchell wrote to the board about Dr. Rolando Arafiles along with numbers corresponding to patients treated by the doctor. The letter said Dr. Arafiles improperly performed surgeries and prescribed medicine to patients.

The case is filled with small town politics. Dr. Arafiles complained about harassment to the sheriff, whom he had saved after a heart attack. The sheriff seized Mitchell's computer and found the letter she sent to the state then charged Mitchell with misusing official information.

"This law in particular is very, very infrequently used and this not the intent of this," said defense attorney Brian Carney.

Our legal analyst feels this case will at the very least scare off people from blowing the whistle in the future and may infringe on constitutionally protected free speech.

"The whole system of criminal justice is based on people reporting crime. If you're going to indict people for reporting crime you're going to step back the justice system 100 years," said KTRK Legal Analyst Joel Androphy.

"It's a matter of, as you will see in the trial, whether or not this reporting was made in good faith," said prosecutor Scott Tidwell.

If convicted of misusing official information, Anne Mitchell could face a punishment ranging from probation to ten years in prison.