A San Francisco transplant surgeon pleaded not guilty Wednesday to two felony charges stemming from his alleged efforts to hasten the death of a prospective organ donor last year.
A lawyer for Dr. Hootan Roozrokh entered the plea on his client's behalf in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court. The attorney, M. Gerald Schwartzbach, also filed a motion to have a third count thrown out because he contends it is legally flawed.
Separately, Judge Martin Tangeman denied a request by prosecutors to impose a gag order in the case, siding with Schwartzbach and an attorney representing The Times and other media outlets that it was an unnecessary restriction on free speech. Prosecutors had argued that the order was needed to protect Roozrokh's right to a fair trial.
Roozrokh, 33, was charged in July with dependent adult abuse, administering a harmful substance and prescribing controlled substances without a legitimate medical purpose. The felony charges are believed to be the first in the nation against a physician for his role in a transplant.
The case has raised serious concerns among ethicists and transplant experts, who fear that it might discourage organ donations.
The surgeon allegedly ordered massive amounts of narcotic painkillers and sedatives for Ruben Navarro, a 25-year-old physically and mentally disabled man, on Feb. 3, 2006. In addition, Roozrokh is accused of administering the antiseptic Betadine through a feeding tube into Navarro's stomach, a sterilization procedure typically done after a donor is dead.
Navarro survived for more than seven hours after he was removed from life support and given the drugs. By that time, his organs were no longer viable and could not be recovered.
If convicted on the three counts, Roozrokh could receive up to eight years in prison and a $20,000 fine, the district attorney's office has said.
In the meantime, Roozrokh is free on $10,000 bond. He is also being investigated by the Medical Board of California, but there are no restrictions on his ability to practice medicine.
Tangeman set a hearing for Oct. 29 to decide whether to uphold or dismiss the charge related to administering Betadine. Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Stephen Brown said he believes the charge is proper.
Schwartzbach said it will take time to go through 5,000 pages of evidence turned over by prosecutors and prepare his client's defense. "It's a very complicated case and they certainly did not rush to prepare it or to file it. I'm going to need a substantial amount of time to prepare the defense."