HAMMOND | The lawyer who represents former international fugitive Mark Weinberger has asked a federal judge to deny the prosecutor's request for a court hearing to determine whether Weinberger should undergo a mental evaluation before he stands trial on fraud charges.
Assistant U.S Attorney Diane L. Berkowitz filed a motion earlier this month asking Magistrate Judge Paul Cherry to order a hearing to determine whether Weinberger, 46, should face a competency evaluation before further hearings on charges he billed patients at his former Merrillville clinic for procedures he didn't perform.
In both of his brief procedural hearings in Hammond federal court, Weinberger has not directly answered Cherry's questions about whether he is capable of understanding court proceedings. Berkowitz cited that reticence and Weinberger's apparent post-arrest suicide attempt in asking for the hearing.
Defense Lawyer Adam Tavitas filed an objection to that motion Monday. Tavitas wrote that his seven meetings with the man once known as "The Nose Doctor" have convinced him that Weinberger is competent.
"Counsel has no doubt that the defendant is able to understand the charges against him in the indictment. Additionally, there is no doubt that the defendant is able to assist counsel in his own defense," Tavitas wrote.
Cherry's ruling will decide the issue.
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Tavitas could not be reached for comment Monday.
A pretrial competency evaluation is meant to decide whether a defendant is mentally capable of helping with his or her own defense. An insanity defense at trial relies on other factors and focuses on a defendant's mental capabilities at the time of the alleged crime.
Weinberger was captured on an Italian mountainside Dec. 15, 5 1/2 years after he disappeared on a family trip to Greece. A guide on the mountain tipped off authorities the former doctor was living in a tent with high-tech survival gear. Weinberger was taken to a hospital after he stabbed himself in the neck with a knife he had hidden while he was being arrested.
When Weinberger vanished in 2004, he left his Merrillville sinus clinic buried beneath some $7 million in debt. Weinberger still faces 357 civil malpractice claims, according to the Indiana Patients' Compensation Fund's Web site.
Weinberger faces severe potential civil damages, but it was the 22-count criminal indictment issued in Hammond federal court that led to his arrest. Federal grand jurors indicted Weinberger in December 2006 on charges he billed insurance companies for procedures he didn't perform.