Contentious start for lawsuit against Midei, St. Joseph

Attorneys for former star cardiologist Mark Midei tried — and failed — to argue for a mistrial during opening statements Friday in a medical malpractice trial, the latest in a string of cases accusing the doctor of placing unnecessary stents in heart patients.

Plaintiff Glenn Weinberg, a prominent Baltimore businessman, contends that he lost at least $50 million after scaling back his career because Midei falsely led him to believe that he had serious coronary artery disease to justify expensive medical intervention.

Attorneys for Midei and St. Joseph Medical Center, where he worked, repeatedly objected to the plaintiff's characterization of events as the trial opened in Baltimore County Circuit Court. Midei says he acted appropriately and in the best interests of his patient, who appeared healthy but had unknowingly had a small heart attack.

Denying the motion for a mistrial, Judge Nancy Purpura said jurors would decide the credibility of the plaintiff's attorneys after reviewing all of the evidence.

It was a contentious start to what's expected to be a lengthy trial. Jury selection took more than four days this week.

The case is the latest against Midei to go to trial. Several hundred cases have been filed by former patients against the doctor and his previous employer. This spring, lawyers settled nearly 250 of the cases, leaving about 45 civil cases outstanding.

Weinberg's case is expected to be one of the biggest in terms of the dollar amount sought. Weinberg is a partner at the Cordish Cos., which has developed such projects as Maryland Live, the state's largest casino.

The allegations against Midei have drawn intense media attention for several years. The judge admonished the jury to ignore coverage and issued a gag order so that the parties can't comment until the case is over.

It started in late 2009, when St. Joseph began warning patients that Midei might have put metal stents in their arteries unnecessarily, leading to various investigations, the eventual revocation of Midei's medical license by the state's physicians board and a flood of lawsuits. Midei has not been charged with criminal wrongdoing.

Catholic Health Initiatives owned the hospital at the time Midei worked there but put the medical institution up for sale after the allegations left it in financial disarray. The University of Maryland bought St. Joseph last year.

Midei sat at the defense table Friday and dispassionately watched as one of Weinberg's attorneys, Robert Weltchek, described him as a physician who grossly abused his power and "did more stent procedures" than any other doctor in the state.

"This is a slam-dunk case," Weltchek told jurors. Midei's medical records are "loaded with errors," he said, and the doctor saw arterial blockage "that nobody else sees."

The case against Midei is built on Weinberg's medical records. In them, Midei describes severely blocked arteries. But, Weltchek said, other cardiology experts refute those assessments, based on images of Weinberg's heart.

Some of the witnesses are former partners and friends of Midei.

Weinberg sat slightly behind his lawyers. He had come with his wife, who was asked to leave the courtroom because she may be a witness.

He's in his late 50s, trim and fit-looking. But in November 2006, a medical test showed evidence of a heart attack, leading his doctor to send him to a cardiologist who referred Weinberg to St. Joseph. There, he met Midei, director of the Towson hospital's cardiac catheterization lab.

Midei told Weinberg he would intervene with stents, which prop the vessels open, only if medically necessary. He ended up placing three stents into Weinberg's heart, telling the businessman of his decision only after it was done.

At the time, Weinberg believed he'd dodged a bullet, Weltchek said. It wasn't until he learned of the allegations against Midei that he had any reason to think his stents were unnecessary. A visit to his doctor confirmed his fears, Weltchek said.

He "advised Mr. Weinberg that he didn't need any of the stents," Weltchek said.

Midei's lawyer, Michael Sloneker, laid out a case showing that Weinberg needed medical intervention. He plans to resume his opening statement Monday.

Images Sloneker presented of Weinberg's heart appeared to show clear blockages. Midei said in his notes that the arteries were 90 percent to 95 percent clogged, but both sides acknowledge that other witnesses will claim much lower figures.

Accounts can vary by up to 30 percent, Sloneker said.

The case is being tried in two parts. The first half asks jurors to decide whether the defendants are guilty of medical malpractice. If they find so, then the second half, during which jurors would consider fraud and conspiracy allegations, would go forward.

St. Joseph's legal team is expected to offer opening statements Monday after Midei's lawyers.

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