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Judge denies request to lower bail for Rowland Heights physician

Lisa Tseng, 43, has been in jail for a year awaiting trial on charges that she recklessly prescribed powerful painkillers to young patients seeking to abuse drugs.

March 11, 2013|By Hailey Branson-Potts, Los Angeles Times
  • Lisa Tseng, 43, a Rowland Heights doctor charged with second-degree murder in the overdose deaths of three patients, is shown in court last June. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge has denied a defense request to lower Tseng's $3-million bail. She has been in jail for a year awaiting trial.
Lisa Tseng, 43, a Rowland Heights doctor charged with second-degree murder… (Luis Sinco, Los Angeles…)

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge has denied a defense request to lower the $3-million bail for a Rowland Heights physician charged with second-degree murder in the overdose deaths of three patients.

Hsiu-Ying "Lisa" Tseng, 43, has been in jail for a year awaiting trial on charges that she recklessly prescribed powerful painkillers to young patients seeking to abuse drugs.

In a 23-page bail motion, Tseng's attorneys described the effects of her incarceration on her sons, one of whom started elementary school while his mother was in the county's lockup.

When Tseng was arrested March 1, 2012, her sons, ages 6 and 9, thought she "had taken a short trip to China on work-related matters. They believe that she is still in China," according to the motion. Tseng has not seen them since her arrest to "spare them the trauma of seeing her in jail," and they have begun to have behavioral problems, the motion states. Tseng's attorney, Tracy Green, added her client is not a threat to the public because she surrendered her medical license.

Judge George G. Lomeli said Friday that "although it is a very sad situation," the charges against Tseng are serious, that three men were dead and her bail was appropriate.

Tseng's case is the first time the Los Angeles County district attorney's office has sought murder charges in connection with a physician's drug-prescription practices.

A Times investigation in 2010 linked Tseng to the overdose deaths of at least eight patients, including the three alleged murder victims: Joey Rovero, 21, an Arizona State University student who died in San Ramon, Calif.; Vu Nguyen, 28, of Lake Forest; and Steven Ogle, 24, of Palm Desert.

During a three-week preliminary hearing in June, dozens of prosecution witnesses described Tseng's clinic as overflowing with patients who seemed to be strung out on drugs. One former patient testified that he overdosed in her office restroom.

In February, a Buddhist priestess with the Fa-Kwang Temple in Downey wrote the court, describing Tseng as "simple, honest, reliable and a hard worker." The priestess, Lih-Jyu Kuo, said Tseng worked in the temple's flower garden.

Members of Tseng's family have begun attending her hearings in recent weeks. As Tseng was escorted from the courtroom Friday, her mother, Echo Tseng, stood and called out to her, then clasped her hands together and bowed slightly.

"Your mother wants to say goodbye," the courtroom bailiff told Tseng, who smiled and waved.

hailey.branson@latimes.com

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