A Texas nurse who notified the state medical board of a doctor’s unsafe practices found herself on trial for a third-degree felony with the possibility of up to ten years in jail and up to a $10,000 fine.
The prosecution’s theory? The charge was for "misuse of official information," and the prosecution claimed that nurse Anne Mitchell used "her position to obtain and disseminate confidential information — patient file numbers — in her letter to the medical board with the intent of harming Dr. Rolando G. Arafiles Jr."
According to the NY Times, "The uncommon prosecution had ignited deep concern among health care workers and advocates for whistle-blowers about a potential chilling effect on the reporting of malpractice."
Mitchell was acquitted after jury deliberations of only one hour. The NY Times reports that "Rebecca M. Patton, president of the American Nurses Association, called the verdict ‘a resounding win on behalf of patient safety.’ Ms. Patton said, ‘The message the jury sent is clear: the freedom for nurses to report a physician’s unsafe medical practices is non-negotiable.’ "
Mitchell has filed a civil complaint in federal court against the county and the hospital, seeking redress for violations of her due process rights, freedom of speech, violation of a Texas whistleblower statute, and tortious interference with business, among other things.