Supreme Court Says Storm Death Files Can be Secret

March 5, 2012

The Louisiana Supreme Court has rejected an attempt by two news organizations to examine the files of a state investigation into allegations that doctors at a New Orleans hospital euthanized patients in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

In a 4-3 decision issued Friday, the high court said the files concerning Memorial Medical Center could be kept secret.

The Times-Picayune and CNN have been in court for nearly five years seeking records of former Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti’s investigation into the death of 34 patients in the days after the August 2005 storm.

Foti’s investigation collapsed in 2007 when an Orleans Parish grand jury declined to charge physician Anna Pou after Foti arrested her in the deaths of four patients. Foti lost a re-election bid in 2007.

Foti supported making the record public, saying it would vindicate his allegations. His successor, Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, said the files should remain secret.

The Supreme Court heard the case in 2008 and ruled that records cannot be kept secret merely on the basis that prosecutors say they might reopen their probes – a decision that favored the media companies.

But it sent the case back to District Judge Don Johnson of Baton Rouge to determine whether prosecutors could prove they were conducting an active investigation or that criminal prosecutions were reasonably anticipated.

Johnson ruled for a second time that the records should be made public, but he was overturned for the second time by the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge.

On Friday, the Supreme Court refused to rehear the case.

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