Can Narcotics Turn Free Speech Into Obstruction of Justice?


As Radley Balko and I have both noted here, Tanya Treadway, an assistant U.S. attorney in Kansas, is trying to bully pain treatment activist Siobhan Reynolds into silence by threatening to prosecute her for "obstruction of justice," based on Reynolds's advocacy work for a local physician accused of writing inappropriate painkiller prescriptions. In a Forbes.com column published today, civil liberties lawyer (and Reason contributor) Harvey Silverglate offers some damning details about Treadway's harassment:

When Reynolds wrote op-eds in local newspapers and granted interviews to other media outlets, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tanya Treadway attempted to impose a gag order on her public advocacy. The district judge correctly denied this extraordinary request.

Undeterred, Treadway filed on March 27 a subpoena demanding a broad range of documents and records, obviously hoping to deter the peripatetic pain relief advocate, or even target her for a criminal trial of her own. Just what was Reynolds' suspected criminal activity?

"Obstruction of justice" is the subpoena's listed offense being investigated, but some of the requested records could, in no possible way, prove such a crime. The prosecutor has demanded copies of an ominous-sounding "movie," which, in reality, is a PRN-produced documentary showing the plight of pain physicians. Also requested were records relating to a billboard Reynolds paid to have erected over a busy Wichita highway. It read: "Dr. Schneider never killed anyone." Suddenly, a rather ordinary exercise in free speech and political activism became evidence of an obstruction of justice.

A federal judge is expected to rule tomorrow on Reynolds' motion to block the subpoea as a violation of her First Amendment rights.