WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Prosecutors can examine Rush Limbaugh's medical records to determine whether he should be charged with "doctor shopping" for prescription painkillers, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Palm Beach Circuit Judge Jeffrey A. Winikoff denied the conservative commentator's request to keep the records sealed, but did say prosecutors cannot make the records public. Limbaugh's attorney promised a prompt appeal.
The judge said the state has a "compelling" interest in determining whether Limbaugh broke the law, trumping his right to keep his medical records private.
Palm Beach County prosecutors insisted they need to review the records to determine how much Limbaugh's doctors knew about his frequent prescriptions for OxyContin, hydrocodone and other painkillers and whether he was "doctor shopping." That refers to looking for a doctor willing to prescribe drugs illegally, or getting prescriptions for a single drug from more than one doctor at the same time.
But Limbaugh's attorneys had argued that the seizure of the records from doctors in Florida and California violated the radio host's privacy. Investigators obtained the records last month after discovering that Limbaugh received more than 2,000 painkillers, prescribed by four doctors, at a pharmacy near his $24 million Palm Beach mansion.
The Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office began investigating Limbaugh last year, after his former maid told them she had been supplying him prescription painkillers for years.
Limbaugh recently admitted his addiction, stemming from severe back pain, and took a five-week leave from his afternoon radio show to enter a rehabilitation program.
Roy Black, Limbaugh's lawyer, said he would appeal by the end of the day.
"Mr. Limbaugh was not doctor shopping and he should not have to sacrifice his privacy to prove his innocence," Black said in a statement.
Black has accused the Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office of attempting to damage Limbaugh's credibility and going after him for political reasons.
But State Attorney Barry Krischer, a Democrat, said in a statement Tuesday that Limbaugh's rights have been protected. He noted the judge's comment that prosecutors have "acted in good faith."
During a Monday court hearing, Black said his client suffered from a degenerative disc disease with "pain so great at one point doctors thought he had bone cancer," and that Limbaugh chose to take addictive painkillers rather than have surgery.
Surgery would have meant doctors would have gone through Limbaugh's throat to operate on his spine, which could threaten his career as a commentator, Black said.
Limbaugh's former maid, Wilma Cline, learned of his addiction and threatened to sell the story to The National Enquirer, Black said. She and her husband, David Cline, demanded millions and were "paid substantial amounts of money," the lawyer said.
Limbaugh allegedly withdrew cash 30 to 40 times at amounts just under the $10,000 limit that requires a bank to report the transaction to the federal government.
The action drew suspicion because it can be a federal crime to structure financial transactions below the $10,000 limit.
Black said Limbaugh paid money to the Clines because they were blackmailing him - not because he was laundering money.
Ed Shohat, the attorney for the Clines, denied Black's allegation.
"Rush Limbaugh confessed and admitted that he bought the pills. ... I know of no facts that my clients demanded money from Rush Limbaugh in any way," he said.