Drug War

Failing Upward in Criminal Justice

The prosecutor who wrongly put a paraplegic in prison wants to be a judge.


When the SWAT team came for Richard Paey in 1997, officers battered down the front door of the Florida home he shared with his wife and their two children. Paey is a paraplegic who uses a wheelchair after a car accident and a botched back surgery. He also suffers from multiple sclerosis. Paey was accused of distributing the medication he used to treat his chronic pain, even though there was no evidence he had sold or given away a single pill. Thanks to Florida's draconian drug laws, he was eventually convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Paey's prosecution was an outrage, and it generated significant media attention. In 2007, after Paey had served nearly four years of his sentence, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist gave him a full pardon. Yet Scott Andringa, who prosecuted the case as an assistant state attorney in New Port Richey, has never expressed a hint of remorse. In fact, Andringa, now a defense attorney in private practice, brags about his efforts to imprison Paey on his professional website, noting that he "was the prosecutor assigned to a controversial drug trafficking case that was later profiled on 60 Minutes, Nightline, and in the New York Times."

And now Andringa wants to be a judge. In December he announced his candidacy in Pinellas County's 2012 elections. The position currently is held by Andringa's father, who is retiring. As of this writing, no one has filed to oppose him.

At the time of his arrest, Paey was undergoing high-dose opioid therapy, a relatively new form of treatment for chronic pain that titrates doses upward as a patient develops tolerance. The tolerance eventually plateaus, but at that point the patient is taking large doses of narcotics every day, enough to kill someone who has not built up the same tolerance. Paey was initially under the care of a New Jersey physician, but he found it difficult to find treatment when his family moved to Florida, a state overcome by anti-opioid hysteria. Depending on whom you believe, either Paey's New Jersey doctor illegally sent him several prescriptions to continue his treatment or Paey forged those prescriptions. In any case, a local pharmacist, alarmed at the volume of medication Paey was taking, tipped off the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.

Although Andringa has conceded he had no evidence Paey was selling or giving away medication, Florida law allowed him to charge Paey with distribution because of the alleged forgeries and the volume of medication he possessed. 

But simply because the law allows a charge does not mean it is merited or in the interest of justice. And here's where Andringa's discretion comes into question. Over the years, Andringa has said he is "proud" of putting Richard Paey in prison, that he has "no personal or professional" regret about the case, and that he's certain his office "did the right thing."

Paey's time in prison was rough. He spent more than 30 days in solitary confinement—retaliation, he believes, for telling his story to New York Times columnist John Tierney. When I interviewed him in 2007, he described systematic sleep deprivation, psychological abuse, and jail cells with little air circulation where the heat index could top 100 degrees.

Andringa did not have to file distribution charges, and he could have asked the judge to waive the mandatory minimum 25-year sentence in Paey's case. He didn't. He would later tell Tampa's Weekly Planet, "As a [prosecutor], you normally charge the highest crime that you can prove." That's one way of approaching the job. Another would be to charge someone with a crime only when doing so serves justice. (Andringa did not respond to my request for comment.)

The injustice of treating Paey as a drug trafficker is clear from the enormous disparity between the sentence he received and the punishment he would have gotten under a plea deal Andringa offered him. Paey would have received only probation and counseling if he admitted he was a drug addict and pleaded guilty to attempted drug distribution. Paey refused. He wasn't a dealer and, more important to him, he wasn't an addict. He was a patient. He was no more addicted to pain medication than a diabetic is to insulin. The pills merely helped him live a more normal life.

Andringa still could have gone to trial only on the attempted distribution charge, or he could have prosecuted Paey for forgery. He could have chosen not to prosecute Paey at all. Instead, he threw the book at Paey—punishment for his obstinacy. Andringa told the Weekly Planet, "I understand someone wanting to have their day in court. But they have to accept that with that there's a risk, and in the case of Richard Paey it was a 25-year mandatory minimum, which he knowingly and willingly accepted."

The state tried Paey three times before it got a conviction, and then only after the jury foreman told fellow jurors that the sentence would be no worse than probation. Andringa used some form of the phrase drug addict eight times in his closing argument. He charged Paey as a trafficker but was clearly trying him for being an addict. Even assuming the facts most unfavorable to Paey, he was neither. At worst, he was guilty of forging prescriptions, not to get high but to get the medical treatment he needed.

That he required such treatment is not in dispute. While in prison, he received morphine via a subdermal pump. "It became a comedy of bureaucracies," Paey told me. "One agency prosecutes me for taking too much medication. And that was their explanation—that my dose was too high for one person to be taking, therefore I must be selling it.…Then I get to prison, and the doctors examine my records and my medical history, and they decide that as doctors, they have to give me this medication…in higher doses than what I'd been getting before."

Andringa recently started a blog to coincide with his campaign for judge. In a post titled "Thoughts About 'The System,'?" he chastises those who say the criminal justice system is flawed. Andringa explains that "The System" is run by "a group of people who are as capable, or fallible, as any other group of people one might find." He adds, "When mistakes are made, time is wasted, scarce resources are squandered and the primary and axiomatic mission of the criminal justice system; to see that justice is done, is thwarted…I believe the appropriate question is not whether 'The System' is flawed, but whether one or more of the people involved has failed; as we all will from time to time."

It's an eloquent (if peculiarly punctuated) passage, but it isn't accurate. A system that identifies, compensates for, and attempts to correct mistakes would be what Andringa describes: a good system complicated by human failing. A system that rewards human failing is broken.

Scott Andringa's defense of "The System" is actually a strong argument for keeping Scott Andringa far away from a judge's gavel. Andringa not only squandered scarce resources in his prosecution of Paey; he ignored his responsibility "to see that justice is done." He continues to fail by refusing to acknowledge that the case was a travesty of justice. If he is rewarded with a promotion to judge, a position where he'll be charged with ensuring that others accused of crimes are treated fairly, then "The System" will have failed. 

Radley Balko is a senior editor at reason.

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  1. Good morning reason!

    Sup Blackjackson?

    Hello (purr) Rich.

  2. "I believe the appropriate question is not whether 'The System' is flawed, but whether one or more of the people involved has failed"

    That is an appropriate question. But I don't think he is going to like the answer to it.

  3. That passage isn't even eloquent. (Which, of course, appears to be the least of Andringa's shortcomings.)

  4. If he was a wise Latina he could fall all the way to the top.

  5. "I believe the appropriate question is not whether 'The System' is flawed, but whether one or more of the people involved has failed"

    Why can't it be both, as in "The system is flawed, and you failed to meet the most basic standards of human decency."


  7. In a sane and just world, Scott Andringa's spinal cord would be severed. He would then have his nose and lips cut off. Finally his gums would be cut off around his teeth, giving his face a hideous, skull-like rictus.

    Then he would be forced to wallow in his own feces until he dies a slow, agonizing death, likely from sepis.

    1. He's just one more example of why "the system" needs some competition.

      Too many people who post here just do not appreciate their own intellectual disconnect: libertarians and all those who would claim to be friends of liberty should consistently apply the principles of non-agression and the practical disaster of monopoly to the administration of justice.

      Chaos, mayhem, murder, mass murder, corruption and spectacular misallocation of resources are the natural and inevitable results of monopoly justice.

      1. There is competition in the administration of justice.

        It's called war.

        1. Holy false dichotomy, Batman!

          1. How so?
            Those who administer justice are those with the monopoly on organized violence.
            Competition among agencies with the monopoly on organized violence is war.
            You can't have more than one agency administering justice in any given area because they will compete, and by the nature of the service they provide - violence - one will triumph over the others.

            1. Those who administer justice are those with the monopoly on organized violence.

              Holy non sequitur, Batman!

        2. You're making my point.

          1. Tell me how you can have competition in the administration of justice.

      2. Ok, explain to me how we can have "competition" when it comes to enforcing laws and dispensing justice? You want to have private courts? Should criminals choose their judges?

        I'd rather support private cops and and private fire departments, but private courts? That sounds insane.


        1. but private courts?

          You have heard of those necessary evils in business known as "human resources," and "binding arbitration", both private means of resolving social and contractual disputes should they arise?

          1. Right, under the protection of an existing government, with laws that protect binding arbitration.

          2. Arbitration won't work for burglars, pedophiles, murderers, rapists, etc.

        2. Ever read Rothbard? Lew Rockwell? Butler Shaffer?

          Gregory, my boy, you have a long way to go before you understand liberty. You are probably stupid enough to actually buy the proposition that liberty can only be achieved and thrive under the protection of a nation state granted a monopoly on the administration of justice.

          1. Who wants to give their life for the purpose of maintaining the state's monopoly on justice?

            Who wants to sacrifice their kid's life so that the state can be the only bad ass in town?

            Who wants to root for the same old, same old, i.e., the nation state destroying the village in order to save it?

            But, I forget, we have some statists here who just love the income tax and the drug laws and the collective bargaining and the tsunami of mediocrity flooding through the ranks of the public sector, particularly the cops, prosecutors, social workers and judges.

          2. I understand liberty way better than you, Mike. I also understand the difference between liberty and anarchy, which I doubt you do.

  8. "I believe the appropriate question is not whether 'The System' is flawed, but whether one or more of the people involved has failed

  9. I also think that,thank you !

  10. My balls were already a little tender this morning. This did not help.

  11. Interestingly enough, it appears Andringa has had his blog account suspended for some reason. A quick google turned up the site, going there returns an "account suspended" page.

    If the man can't even follow the terms of service of his hosting provider, what hope is there of him following the law as a judge?

  12. I have long held the prime requisite for being a prosecutor is a complete and utter lack of compassion for anyone. I have not been proved wrong yet.

    1. I have long held the prime requisite for being a prosecutor is a complete and utter lack of compassion for anyone.

      It is also a prerequisite for employment with the DMV, IRS, and The Halls of Academia.

  13. Prosecutors don't give a shit about anything other than getting convictions.

    Guilt, innocence and justice are immaterial.

    All that matters is winning in court.

    1. And defense attorneys don't give a shit about anything other than getting their clients off.

      So you see? The system works. Be grateful that at least in America you're presumed innocent until proven guilty. In most of the world it isn't like that. In Mexico you're guilty until proven innocent.


      1. And defense attorneys don't give a shit about anything other than getting their clients off.

        As usual, your dimwittery is a sight to behold. The function of a defense attorney is not to "get their clients off." The function of a defense attorney is to make sure that the prosecution's case is executed is accordance within the laws and rules established by due process. IOW, to make sure the prosecution operates within its pre and proscribed boundaries. When the state exceeds those boundaries, it has failed to meet its burden of proof, and the same applies to the defense's case. The difference is the prosecution must prove its case beyond reasonable doubt, whereas the defense must provide reason for reasonable doubt if it exists.

        1. Oh please, don't lecture me about "functions," I live int he real world. Just like DA's do everything to win so do defense lawyers. They'll use courtroom antics, they'll lie or simply ignore the truth, they'll give jury nullification a chance, etc, etc, etc. You have a really romantic view of lawyers, perhaps you've seen too many episodes of "The Practice."

          1. Reading comprehension fail on your part, penny polisher.

          2. Except that many defense attorneys, the public pretender types, have no interest in defending their client.

            They are interested in sucking up the the prosecutor. By advising their clients to take plea bargains, even if they are innocent, the prosecutor gets convictions and the public pretender gets political points.

      2. What about the cases where prosecutors and defense collude and convince innocent people to take plea bargains?
        Had this guy had a different defense attorney this case may never have gone to court.

      3. oh yeah, it really worked for this guy. Also, you are simplifying, prosecutors absolutely employ discretion about what they prosecute.

      4. Be grateful that at least in America you're presumed innocent until proven guilty. In most of the world it isn't like that. In Mexico you're guilty until proven innocent.

        LOL ! Try refusing a breath test in MA.I have been proven Not Guilty in court and 8 months after my refusal I am still waiting to get my license back.I hope you are young and naive ,there might still be hope.

        1. Hey Sober guy, did the government forced you to drink and drive? No. You refused the breath test because you were legally intoxicated and you knew it. So basically, YOU BROUGHT IT ON YOURSELF.

          1. Oh my god, get the fuck out of here. You are so not a libertarian.

          2. Ha! Let's follow your logic. Politicians, judges, lawyers and law enforcement officers routinely refuse to take breath tests when stopped for DUI. So, according to you, every single one of them is guilty and should be punished.
            I like that, I like that a lot.

    2. I naively thought that prosecutors actually were interested in justice until I met one at a kid's birthday party.

      In the course of small talk, he mentioned that he was a DA and casually asked whether I had ever been on a jury. I said that I have been called but never chosen, probably because I'm an engineer. I had always surmised that defense attorneys think that engineers are conservative and likely to convict. I was shocked by the DA's reply. He said that he hated to have engineers on his juries because they're too logical and likely to pick apart his arguments.

      1. I naively thought that police were actually interested in justice until I overheard a group of them having an alcohol fueled discussion.

        I discovered that they really and truly loved their occupation because it mean they could beat the hell out of people and get paid for it. But what really made me apprehensive was the one who made it abundantly clear that he was looking forward to the opportunity to use his service weapon. He got the job hoping to get a chance to kill someone, and the others weren't phased a bit.

        Whenever I have to interact with police I now assume I am dealing with a sociopath who is looking for any excuse to beat me to a pulp or even kill me.

  14. It's always a bad thing when your hometown is mentioned in a Balko article.

    1. Well, then you will have the opportunity to vote against this a-hole in his bid for a judicial seat.

      1. I don't live there anymore, but even if I did I couldn't vote against him. He's running in a different county.

    2. It's always bad if your hometown is New Port Richey. Of course, Balko mentions other cities too, but if it's NPR, well, sorry, dude...

  15. Psychopaths tend to congregate in key career fields. These career fields are notable in that they do not require teamwork, give the practitioner power over others that is a product of the position but not earned, and puts them in a position to either observe or cause human suffering without ramifications to them.

    Violent psychopaths are usually criminals. Non-violent psychopaths are frequently found in academia, medicine and the law. These fields give them power over others where they routinely get to watch others suffer, which they enjoy.

    Contrary to popular belief, the folks do not tend to last long in in either law enforcement or military settings. Their inability to work with others gets them throw out from modern law enforcement and military organizations. That is not true of third world or small town establishments however.

    I have met many lawyers and judges who were quite simply psychopathic. Society needs to do a better job of identifying and eliminating these folks from positions of public trust.

    1. That's it, isn't it? In a society where you create positions which give people power and authority over others, who do you think is going to gravitate toward those positions??? The best of us??? Do the best of us want power and authority over others? Rarely. And even more particularly than what you mention is governmental authority, which I guess could fall under law.

      Incidentally and entirely not relevant to the discussion: If you ever have the chance to see Joe Bonamassa perform, don't miss it. Saw him in Cincy on Sat and it was flat out spellbinding. Best guitar player on earth and wonderful performer.

      1. "All governments suffer a recurring problem: Power attracts pathological personalities. It is not that power corrupts but that it is magnetic to the corruptable. Such people have a tendency to become drunk on violence, a condition to which they are quickly addicted."

        Frank Herbert, Chapterhouse Dune

        1. Or, as Einstein said, "force always atracts men of low morals".

          1. Yet he was a socialist.

  16. OK, this guy is nearing an election year... How could people go about starting a simple campaign or challenge to his run? are there other people in the area who could be persuaded to run? could Paey organize some form of campaign against him?

  17. Although Andringa has conceded he had no evidence Paey was selling or giving away medication, Florida law allowed him to charge Paey with distribution because of the alleged forgeries and the volume of medication he possessed.

    Irelevant, it is "intent to distribute" if you have too much. Quite simply, he was taking too much and was addicted, which is a crime. Addiction is a serious medical issue, it is not a reasonable payoff to be free of pain. Being in pain is better than being addicted. Sometimes a few need to suffer for the benefit of the majority, and with addictive drugs, preventing widespread addiction by restricting opiates is more important than some people being free of pain. Opiates are best reserved for short term use or for terminal illness.

    1. So, are you prepared to die for this principle?

      1. Gov't officials and their families excepted, of course.

    2. Jim|3.22.11 @ 9:44AM|
      Being in pain is better than being addicted.

      This is sarcasm, right?

    3. Yep - I'll wish the back pain I had on you, only without the fortuitous outcome (we made it go away).

      You keep the pain, but you won't be "addicted". Wow, WINNER!

      I'll leave the Glock and a case of 9mm JHPs beside your bed. You'll only need one....

      1. Eric Draven: "I have something to give you, I don't want it anymore....30 hours of pain!"

      2. Take 140 grains of lead and don't call me in the morning.

    4. Who are you to say that 'being in pain is better than being addicted'? What gives you the presumption of superiority to say "You should be racked with uncontrollable pain because ooh if you take some drugs you might need to keep taking those drugs!"

      Here's a clue: People in that situation *are* going to be in pain for the rest of their lives. What does it matter at all if they're 'addicted' to pain medication that they need ANYWAY to not be in misery? What 'widespread addiction' are you talking about? That a guy who needs to take that much is suddenly going to give it away? "Hey, I need to take this much just to be able to function, but I can give some away to get more people addicted, that'd be fun!"

      I'm not the type to wish 'balancing' on people. I don't wish you get some horrible painful injury. But I do think you're a vile person whose own sense of moral superiority blinds you to the suffering of others.

      1. What a well thought out reply, Highway. You nailed it.

      2. "But I do think you're a vile person whose own sense of moral superiority blinds you to the suffering of others."

        Actually, he's not blind to the suffering of others, he revels in it, unless this is just someone trolling.

    5. You are a naked savage.

    6. WHAT??

      "Quite simply, he was taking too much and was addicted, which is a crime. "

      1)Balko just wrote in the above article that Paey was actually prescribed more drugs in prison, so how dumb do you have to be say he was taking too much?

      2) How does it become the right of other people to say what is too much? That is between him and God, and his doctor.

      3) Not that it's relevant, but where is the proof he was addicted?
      "Being in pain is better than being addicted."

      That's not your decision to make, you are not God, you don't get to decide what is best for people, and even then He gives us the choice.


      Sometimes a few need to suffer for the benefit of the majority

      Again, you are not God, you don't get to make such decisions. In fact your logic is correct(not that you knew it), but your assertion that others get to decide who suffers and use force to bring about compliance is wrong.

      The few that need to suffer are the addicts, so that others may have their freedom ensured.

      You're an authoritarian piece of scum.

    7. Don't feed them, especially when they're so fucking obvious.

    8. I'm sorry, but you are a terrifying human being. Sadly, you represent the vast majority of American idiots.

    9. It's unfortunate that being stupid isn't painful so that you'd have a clue what you're asking. A friend has neuropathy and feels as if his hands and feet are constantly in boiling water. Try sticking your hands in boiling water for a few hours and then tell me about the need to nobly suffer for the benefit of the majority.

    10. "a few need to suffer for the benefit of the majority"

      Are you being serious or sarcastic? If the former, one hopes that you get an opportunity to suffer as much as Paey for the sake of the others.

      However, this sort of moral principle usually results in the majority suffering for the sake an elite minority.

    11. Jim, you're just the sort of guy that we need at the Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness. Please send a resume.

      1. No, Kate, we want him at DEA.

    12. "a few need to suffer for the benefit of the majority"
      Why stop at a few? Why not many or half?
      It appears that you get off on human suffering. Jackass!

    13. What a blind, disgusting write-off of injustice. Let me guess, you're a drug cop? That's the only way I can see someone rationalizing away what this man's been through.

  18. He's just one more example of why "the system" needs some competition.

    An interesting point. And Sarcasmic, hell yeah there would be war. You see the system, like the mob doesn't like competition. And they are willing to slit your throat in the night if you even murmur that concept. That you'd even think of living in some other form of governance makes you a traitor.

  19. Once again, for libertarians, the first allegiance is to liberty - and not to team red, white and blue.

    Nation state idolatry is for losers.

  20. Let me be clear. This shit will continue under my watch.

  21. Well, if Radley's leaving, I can't imagine Reason can find anyone else who can punch a nut as hard. So my balls thank you for leaving, Radley. My brain refuses to go to HuffPo, although it's trainable.

    Good luck, and thanks for what you've done and will continue to do!

    1. Say whaaaa?

  22. Scott Andringa thinks Javert was a softie.

  23. Of course, Andringa should promoted to judge. The Paey case illustrates that he truly understands the nature and purpose of the State.

    What's the point of public service if public servants can't make people miserable?

  24. I think crooked DAs and judges should be subjected to extra-judicial justice (ie, revenge) by their victims or their victim's friends/family/supporters.
    Andringa, for example, should probably be shot for his crime in prosecuting and ill person with no evidence. If we desire a civil society, then we cannot tolerate the initiation of violence and force against others. And those who break this compact must be terminated, in order to serve as a deterrent to future would-be tyrants.

  25. I have been looking for a candidate to run against Andringa. The trouble is that the Libertarian Party of Florida is short on lawyers, particularly in Andringa's district. We are having our convention on the weekend of April 30th (www.lpfconvention.info). If you know anyone who is liberty minded and is willing to run against Andringa, please let the LPF know.

  26. Punchable face.

  27. this one time District Attorney does not have the ability to serve as a judge based on the element see as read, he should just stay in his privet practice where he belongs and those who seek his legal advice, good luck, any person on judicial system that inflects such without good cause as evidence and since there is no alternative respective legal system having some form of immunity against such mistakes, those must not represent the people, but as always said"what comes around, goes around" it all comes back in a life time to one, do not be deceived, it will come back unto you?

  28. this is obscene. it's the peter principle in the most disgusting manner

  29. In my country you usually get 10 years for murder and 1 year for drugs. But in Florida they are locking up people for 25 years for drugs? Idiots.

  30. i just like to say that is messed up to put a guy through hell that has been through it already.. i hate cops, judges, and politcians they are all full of it!!

  31. This movie has some nike sb skunk dunks for sale of the same flaws I saw in another attempt at a faithful adaptation of a work of fantastic literature long thought unfilmable, Zach Snyder's 2009 version of Watchmen...That is, it kobe 7 for sale struck me as a series of filmed recreations of scenes from the famous novel

  32. te attorney in New Port Richey, has never expressed a hint of remorse. In fact, Andringa, now a defense attorney in private pra

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