The TV soap opera "L.A. Law" is rarely as explosive as the courtroom mini-series that was played out for real here this week, when a feisty diet doctor defended himself against charges that he failed to keep adequate records of addictive pills.
During a two-day civil trial in U.S. District Court, Dr. Ellis Turk called his only witness a liar, argued vociferously with a normally mild judge and objected to nearly every question posed by his opposing counsel.
There were accusations of conspiracy amid much finger-pointing, name-calling and gavel-banging.
The doctor boasted of his legal prowess. "I'm doing 100 percent -- no, 98 percent," is how Dr. Turk graded his performance shortly after completing a shouting match with a state drug control inspector.
Arguments in the trial ended yesterday, and Senior Judge Herbert F. Murray said he would issue a written opinion later.
Dr. Turk, who dispenses diet pills to patients trying to lose weight, was being tried in a civil lawsuit brought by the U.S. Attorney's Office on two counts of failing to maintain proper records of controlled drugs.
He was charged in November 1989 after U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration investigators alleged that he was unable in 1988 to account for 10,638 doses of Phentermine and 1,460 doses of Phendimetrazine, both prescription diet pills.
DEA agents testified that officials found the discrepancy after a drug manufacturer reported to agency officials in New York and Connecticut that Dr. Turk had made "excessive" purchases of the drugs.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kaye A. Allison said she was concerned about what happened to the lost drugs.
"At first blush, it appears like a record-keeping problem," Ms. Allison said. "But Congress imposed record-keeping provisions for a very specific reason -- to keep drugs off the street and to keep patients from the harmful effects of abusive drugs."
Dr. Turk charged that government investigators had concocted a conspiracy to smear him.
The doctor peppered state drug investigator William Hahn with questions over whether the investigation of him was justified.
"You keep firing questions at the witness before he can answer," Judge Murray interrupted.
"That's just like her," Dr. Turk said, motioning toward Ms. Allison. "I must be getting good at it."
"No, you're not," the judge asserted.
"That's your opinion," the doctor said.
Later, Dr. Turk told the judge that the bench was favoring Mr. Hahn.
"I wish you wouldn't insult my intelligence by discriminating against me and not him. . . . For the second time, I'm asking you to recuse yourself from the case."
Judge Murray said he would not remove himself, and Dr. Turk continued to question Mr. Hahn -- until the doctor-lawyer and witness got into a dispute over what happened when investigators went to the doctor's office in 1988 to seize patients' records.
Mr. Hahn said Dr. Turk hid from investigators in his office.
"You're a liar. You're a perjurer," Dr. Turk charged. "Do you know what perjury is?"
"You have no right to make that accusation," the judge intervened.
"I do have the right," Dr. Turk shot back. "I have the right of free speech. Don't tell me I don't have that right. This man has perjured himself a dozen times."
Later, Dr. Turk made no excuses for having confronted Judge Murray. "I didn't come here with my tail between my legs to lick the boots of a judge," he said.