Christian Hageseth pleads not guilty

Doc pleads not guilty to practicing sans license
Colorado physician accused of prescribing Prozac online

By Michael Manekin, STAFF WRITER

San Mateo County Times
12/05/2007

REDWOOD CITY — A Colorado doctor accused of filling an online Prozac prescription for a Stanford student who later committed suicide pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges that he practiced medicine without a California license.

Dr. Christian Hageseth, 46, was extradited last week from Nebraska, where he had been cited for speeding, and was being held in San Mateo County jail in lieu of $500,000 bail.

Moments after Hageseth entered his plea, a Superior Court judge lowered his bail to

$250,000, explaining that the doctor may still pose a threat to the public, but never illegally dodged criminal charges in San Mateo County.

County prosecutors have tried to bring Hageseth to justice since filing charges in May 2006. But Hageseth has long fought county prosecutors’attempts to extradite him, claiming that filling a drug prescription from Colorado via the Internet grants him immunity from charges that he illegally practiced medicine in California.

Superior Court Judge Barbara Mallach said Tuesday that Hageseth never “eluded authorities” when he fought extradition to San Mateo County. Rather, the physician was merely “using his legal remedies” to fight the charges against him.

Then, she cut the doctor’s bail in half.

Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Ow said outside of court that she was relieved that the judge didn’t set bail any lower.

“(Two-hundred fifty thousand dollars) is still a significant amount of money, and hopefully it will
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ensure that if the defendant is able to post (bail), then he will continue to appear in court,” Ow said.

If the judge slashed Hageseth’s bail even further, prosecutors would have been concerned that the doctor might leave the state, Ow said.

Defense attorney Anthony Gibbs assured the judge in court that his client “has every probability of returning for trial.” He then told the judge that the physician had voluntarily surrendered his license to practice medicine in Colorado, adding “it would be ludicrous to think that Dr. Hageseth will go out and fill prescriptions.”

In June 2005 Hageseth prescribed generic Prozac online to 19-year-old John McKay, a freshman at Stanford University. On Aug. 2, 2005, McKay committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning, reportedly with alcohol and the generic Prozac in his bloodstream.

McKay linked up with Hageseth through a Web site called Usanetrix.com, an Internet portal advertising prescription drugs. Unlike visits with a conventional doctor, patients who visit the online pharmacy do not submit to a physical examination. Instead, prospective buyers fill out an online questionnaire which a doctor is supposed to review before prescribing the medication.

Hageseth filled the prescription of generic Prozac for McKay without a consultation, according to prosecutors.

The California medical board investigated the incident and urged the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office to file criminal charges. Nearly a year after McKay’s death, prosecutors charged Hageseth with one count of practicing without a state medical license.

Hageseth’s lawyers filed a motion in Superior Court to try to get the case dismissed on the grounds that the state court lacked jurisdiction to try the doctor under state law, but a judge refused the request. The attorneys then appealed the decision; however, a state Appeals Court ruled in May that county prosecutors could try the doctor.

Defense attorney Carlton Briggs has argued that if Hageseth is convicted, many more out-of-state physicians prescribing medication online in California would be vulnerable to prosecution.

However, Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe argues that the case against Hageseth will not “open up doors to additional prosecution … because, whatever the outcome, it will send a message to any doctor who is thinking prescribing drugs online is a lucrative business.”

Meanwhile, David and Sheila McKay have filed a civil lawsuit in federal court against Hageseth and two companies affiliated with the online pharmacy, alleging negligence and wrongful death of their 19-year-old son. A federal judge in the state’s Northern District dismissed the suit in September, but the McKays have appealed the ruling.

Sheila McKay said outside of court Tuesday that a criminal conviction for Hageseth represents an opportunity to send a clear message to online pharmacies and doctors that “it’s not OK to churn out prescriptions to young people.”

Hageseth is scheduled to return to the Hall of Justice on Dec. 19 to set a preliminary hearing date. He faces up to three years in state prison and a $10,000 fine if convicted.

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