|Tuesday, March 09, 2004
Judge drops all charges against defendant in Knox case
|Chief U.S. District Judge Samuel Wilson dismissed all charges Monday against Willard Newbill "Bill" James.
By Laurence Hammack
A counselor accused of fraud at Dr. Cecil Byron Knox's pain management office will not be among the defendants when the case is tried a second time.
Chief U.S. District Judge Samuel Wilson dismissed all charges Monday against Willard Newbill "Bill" James, a licensed professional counselor who was accused of cheating insurance companies through improper billing practices at Knox's Southwest Roanoke practice.
Prosecutors had asked Wilson to dismiss the charges against James without prejudice, meaning the case could be brought against him sometime in the future.
The judge refused to do that, noting that James has been the subject of a lengthy investigation and a trial last year in which the jury was unable to reach a verdict on his charges of conspiracy, mail fraud and health care fraud.
In dismissing the charges with prejudice, Wilson wrote: "It appears that the likelihood of further criminal proceedings against James is small, but he, having come this far, is entitled to certainty - a resolution that has finality."
Defense attorney David Damico said James has always maintained his innocence.
Damico said his client suffered the misfortune of sharing an office with Knox, the key target in a federal investigation into charges of overprescribing OxyContin and other drugs prone to abuse and fatal overdoses.
"I think the case against Bill James had more to do with the government's dislike of Dr. Knox than it had to do with anything that Bill James did," Damico said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Bondurant said last week that James was dropped from the prosecution to streamline the remaining case against Knox and his office manager, Beverly Gale Boone.
At a trial last year for Knox, Boone and James, a jury found the defendants not guilty of about half the charges and deadlocked on the rest. Charges against a fourth defendant were dismissed.
Bondurant said last week he planned to refer the case against James to the civil side of the U.S. Attorney's Office for possible collection of the money he allegedly obtained through fraud. Wilson's order Monday would apparently have no bearing on that process.
Knox faces trial next month on charges the first jury was unable to decide - that his prescription of painkillers led to the death or serious injury of some of his patients. He and Boone face additional charges that include drug distribution, health fraud and perjury.
As for James, he hopes to get his practice back in order.
"He's very skilled in treating people with brain injuries," Damico said. "He continues to be interested in that and is very interested in going back to that kind of work."