The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) has filed an amicus brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case of Dr. Vilasini Ganesh, who was denied the right to substitute counsel of her choosing and instead forced to stand trial with an unwanted lawyer. She is now serving a 63-month sentence in federal prison.
The case began as a dispute with a private insurer, which was refusing to pay claims that were unrelated to any federal program. This could have been resolved more appropriately as a civil matter, AAPS maintains, but instead the federal government pursued the case based on the interest of private insurance companies.
AAPS argues that “the resulting sentence of more than 5 years in prison for a mere private billing dispute was excessive. A vigorous requested defense should have been allowed to avert the resulting injustice.”
Dr. Ganesh had irreconcilable differences with her counsel, but the court denied her the right to substitute counsel who could have effectively presented billing technicalities to the jury. The court placed its calendar above this constitutional right.
“Expediency should not be used to erode constitutional rights,” AAPS argues. “Few constitutional rights are as important and fundamental as one’s right to counsel in a criminal prosecution.”
“The Sixth Amendment right to effective counsel is absolute. There is no effective representation by counsel amid an irreconcilable conflict between the attorney and the defendant. A proper jury trial cannot proceed under such a conflict.”
Quoting Justice Sotomayor, AAPS writes that there are “many insidious ways that potential Sixth Amendment violations can affect the course of a trial.”
A string of cases in which the Sixth Amendment is disregarded has created confusion about the contours of the right to counsel, which the U.S. Supreme Court needs to resolve, AAPS concludes.
The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) is a national organization representing physicians in all specialties since 1943. Its motto is omnia pro aegroto (everything for the patient).