Lawyer suing fugitive doctor, hospitals wants elected judges to hear Durrani cases

Deters Law Firm files court papers to disqualify Ohio Chief Justice O'Connor, visiting judge Schweikert

click to enlarge Eric Deters
Eric Deters

More than four years after the government accused a local doctor of defrauding Medicare by performing unnecessary spine surgeries, his former patients are still waiting for justice — and monetary redress.

If and when the claims against Dr. Atiq Durrani will ever be heard remains in doubt because he fled to his native Pakistan in 2013, just months after his federal indictment. In it, the government says he told patients that their situation was “urgent,” that “surgery was needed right away” and that surgery “was the only option.”

The criminal trial was put on an indefinite hold. Meanwhile, more than 500 cases pending against Durrani and Greater Cincinnati hospitals where Durrani performed surgeries are backlogged in the Hamilton County courthouse because of false starts and delays.

Matt Hammer, an attorney for the plaintiffs, has lost patience with the court system’s ability to bring his cases to trial. In an extraordinary legal maneuver, he filed papers last Friday asking that Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor be “disqualified” from further involvement in the cases. Hammer also asks for removal of Mark Schweikert, whom O’Connor appointed in August to hear the cases.

O’Connor, Hammer argues, has received too many campaign contributions from the health care sector to be fair to his clients. Schweikert and O’Connor, he says, are “collaborating on deciding issues at the Common Pleas level” and out to rule against his clients at every turn.

The so-called “Durrani cases” have bounced from one judge to another since the initial lawsuits were filed in 2013.

After Common Pleas Judge Robert Ruehlman started consolidating the cases on his docket in 2015, the Ohio Supreme Court ordered the cases redistributed to other judges. In February, citing the duplication of effort required of 12 judges, Presiding Judge Melba Marsh asked O’Connor to appoint one judge to hear the Durrani cases. O’Connor appointed a retired Belmont County judge, Jennifer Sargus, to take them over. Sargus withdrew in August, though, and the caseload was handed to Schweikert, a former Hamilton County judge and retired director of the Ohio Judicial Conference.

Schweikert has scheduled 23 cases for trial between June 2018 and March 2019. But Hammer says the cases “deserve the utmost consideration for fairness and impartiality.” He filed a parallel complaint Monday in federal court.

An Ohio Supreme Court spokeswoman says the matter was referred to the attorney general’s office for a response. Emails to two hospital lawyers drew no response. Hamilton County Court Administrator Patrick Dressing did not respond to emails intended for Schweikert.

Hammer works for the Deters Law Firm. Its “manager,” Eric Deters, was suspended from the practice of law by the Kentucky Supreme Court in 2015 for ethical violations. Now acting as a promoter and spokesman for the firm, which he says is owned by his father Charles Deters, Eric Deters minces no words in criticizing Ohio courts.

“The public needs to know that the Ohio civil justice system led by Chief Justice O’Connor and the judges she’s appointed have cared more about Dr. Durrani and the hospitals than his victims,” he tells CityBeat. “It’s sick. It’s an indictment of the Ohio legal and medical establishment.”

Deters won a $1.04 million jury verdict against Durrani in 2014 on behalf of client Crystal Pierce of Green Township. The firm lost two cases in Butler County.

Durrani operates a spine surgery practice in Lahore, Pakistan, according to what appears to be his Facebook page.

CONTACT JAMES McNAIR at [email protected], 513-914-2736 or @jmacnews on Twitter