By Wyatt Goolsby
KERMIT - Some call them crooks out to get a local doctor. Others call them whistleblowers trying to protect patients. Two former Winkler County nurses went before a judge Wednesday on charges they sent out private patient information.
Dozens of residents in Winkler County filed out of the courthouse Wednesday morning after more than two hours of pre-trial hearings against Anne Mitchell and Vicki Galle. Both nurses face felony charges for mis-using private, patient files to harass the County hospital's doctor. However their lawyers said this is simply local law enforcement and officials retaliating after the nurses filed compliants with the Texas Medical Board.
"This is not a criminal case," Midland-based attorney Brian Carney, who is representing the nurses, explained. "This is a case of two nurses doing what they think is the right thing and what they are obligated to do by their licensing agency and by the Texas Board of Medicine and doing what they think is proper for patient safety."
At Wednesday morning's hearing, lawyers on both sides talked about the nurses complaints against the doctor. The complaints include patient safety, and encouraging his own patients to buy his own herbial supplements.
"I think statewide and nationwide this case has gotten attention because nurses are afraid because of conduct like this to report what they think is unsafe conduct committed by doctors. If this is allowed to happen, people are allowed to be prosecuted for this type of behavior, it can have a chilling effect on the speech of nurses," Carney said.
The Winkler County District Attorney and Sheriff still refuse to talk on camera about the case. However, they said in court, they have evidence to show Anne Mitchell used a county computer at the Community Center to harass the doctor. Attorneys for the nurses have denied any private information was released.
Local and state members of the Texas Nurses Association said they're backing Mitchell and Galle. So far, they've raised more than 20,000 dollars nationwide for their legal fund.
No word yet on when the judge will set a trial date.