Lawyer uses 'finger food' story to discredit doctor in court

Published: Monday, July 11 2011 6:53 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — An amputated finger placed in a buffet at a luncheon made its way into a defense lawyer's argument to discredit a doctor called to testify against a colleague in a federal court case Monday.

Attorney Peter Stirba told Judge Dee Benson that Dr. Michael Sumko, an orthopedic surgeon at Brigham City Community Hospital, put the finger in a luncheon food display where "someone who attended was about to eat it."

The woman reported the incident to hospital administrators, he said.

"Obviously, she was very traumatized," Stirba said after the hearing. "It was not a pleasant experience for her."

Stirba said he does not know all the details regarding the incident but that it happened two or three years ago and was corroborated by three or four other people. He filed a subpoena to find out more and whether the hospital took any disciplinary action. He said the incident violated professional ethics and would be fair game as a basis to impeach Sumko as a witness.

Brigham City Community Hospital attorney Andrew Deiss did not dispute Stirba's contention but successfully argued that the incident is not relevant to Sumko's expertise as a witness. Benson called it "really unusual" and added "if it happened at all."

Federal prosecutors called Sumko to testify in the criminal case against Dr. Dewey C. MacKay, a now retired Brigham City orthopedic surgeon who faces 129 counts of illegally prescribing painkillers to hundreds of patients, including one who died. Prosecutors allege he routinely issued prescriptions to as many as 120 patients a day without conducting proper medical examinations.

Between January 2005 and October 2009, MacKay issued 20,612 prescriptions for hydrocodone products, totaling more than 1.9 million pills, prosecutors said. The doctor reportedly issued more than 17,000 prescriptions for oxycodone products, totaling more than 1.5 million pills.

Between Jan. 1, 2005, and June 5, 2008, MacKay had the highest volume of prescriptions for hydrocodone products in the state and the fourth-highest volume for oxycodone prescriptions, prosecutors said.

A jury trail is scheduled to begin next Monday.

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com

Twitter: dennisromboy

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