Both sides declare victory


WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) – After three years under suspicion, Rush Limbaugh can finally put behind him the investigation that exposed the conservative commentator’s own drug problems, thrusting him into the spotlight for the very things he derided in others.

None of it affected his ratings for a radio talk show that airs weekdays on nearly 600 stations and draws about 20 million listeners a week, Limbaugh spokesman Tony Knight said.

“This investigation didn’t have any impact on his audience or on his advertising,” Knight said Saturday, a day after defense attorneys announced a deal with prosecutors. A single prescription fraud charge will be dismissed after 18 months if Limbaugh stays drug free and doesn’t violate any laws.

Prosecutors launched their investigation in 2003 after Limbaugh’s housekeeper alleged he abused OxyContin and other painkillers. He entered a five-week rehabilitation program and blamed his addiction on severe back pain.

Prosecutors seized Limbaugh’s medical records after learning that he received about 2,000 painkillers, prescribed by four doctors in six months.

The investigation was held up as prosecutors and Black battled in court over whether Limbaugh’s constitutional right to privacy was violated when the records were seized, but the state prevailed.

Is the deal a victory for Limbaugh?

“This is a dismissal of the charge … representing, in affect, a win for the defense,” said Kendall Coffey, a former U.S. attorney and prominent Miami defense lawyer.

“Having said that, I wouldn’t call this case a major defeat for the prosecution. They fought and won an important legal point in establishing that you can use a search warrant in Florida to secure medical records,” Coffey added.

“That’s an important precedent for prosecutors around the state. This could be the rare situation where both sides made a deal and can walk away feeling some satisfaction.”

The deal also allows Limbaugh “to save face,” said Michael Seigel, a University of Florida law professor and former federal prosecutor.

“Given the high profile nature of this, it’s an indication to me that if Rush Limbaugh thought he could win the case and be vindicated, he would go to trial,” Seigel said. “He’s not asking for his day in court.”

The 55-year-old commentator surrendered Friday at the Palm Beach County jail on a warrant charging that in 2003, sought a prescription from a physician without revealing that he had received medications from another practitioner within 30 days. That charge, commonly referred to as doctor shopping, is a felony that could carry a sentence of up to 5 years in prison.

Limbaugh was booked, photographed and fingerprinted before being released on $3,000 bail. He has steadily maintained his innocence.

Black called the charge a formality to bring closure to the case, adding that Limbaugh has been drug free for 21/2 years.

A spokesman for the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office, Mike Edmondson, said the deal is typical in such cases.

“It’s really standard for someone who is dealing with their addiction,” Edmondson said Saturday. “It’s a diversion specifically for first time offenders with no prior criminal history or arrest.”

Before his own problems became public, Limbaugh had often argued that drug crimes deserve punishment, once saying on his short-lived television show in 1995 that users “ought to be accused and they ought to be convicted and they ought to be sent up.”

The resolution of the case was applauded by Ethan Nadelmann, director of the nonprofit New York-based Drug Policy Alliance, which promotes treatment instead of incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders.

“Maybe this will soften up Rush Limbaugh a bit when he talks on the radio about the millions of other Americans who are suffering from drug problems,” Nadelmann said.

AP-ES-04-29-06 1426EDT