Federal Judge Bill Wilson today denied an injunction for Dr. Lonnie Joseph Parker, a Hope physician targeted by a new state law prohibiting participation in the Medicaid program by a sex offender.
Parker was convicted of possession of child pornography in a case Mara Leveritt has written about extensively. He’s proclaimed his innocence throughout unsuccessful appeals and a 57-month prison sentence. Despite his record, the state Medical Board licensed him to practice and he has done so for several years. A large portion of his practice consists of Medicaid patients. Legislative Audit targeted Parker in a specially requested report as a recipient of Medicaid. Sen. David Sanders soon followed up with a law to prohibit Medicaid participation by sex offenders. That law affected one person — Parker. He and two of his patients sued the state to stop enforcement of the law.
Judge Wilson restated the graphic nature of the photos Parker had been convicted of possessing and rejected his continued plea of innocence “out of hand.” He rejected, too, the argument that the law amounted to ex post facto punishment because it didn’t deprive Parker of employment in general and is relevant to the state’s police power. He said the law requiring Medicaid recipients to have free choice of providers referred to “qualified” providers and that the state can properly make that determination.
Wilson noted the absence of further complaints about Wilson, who’s been practicing since 2006 and making about $75,000 a year from Medicaid payments, but commented:
While the probability of a non-contact sex offender committing a sexual-contact crime may be low, an appreciable chance of exposing a child of tender years to sexual abuse outweighs any financial harms or inconvenience Act 1504 may cause. I am going to err, if I am going to err at all, on the side of the children of tender years.
Because State authorities have classified Parker as a Level 1 sex offender and have given him a license to practice medicine, at first blush, it appears that a federal district judge should defer to state authorities, which is the usual practice. After considerable reflection, however, I cannot agree with this classification. The nature of some of his child pornographic photos (described above) and the fact that he would be working with young children if his motion were granted is too strong for me.
Parker’s lawyer, John Hardy, said he was surprised by the ruling and said he would prepare for a final hearing on the case with a fuller presentation of evidence that he says lends credence to Parker’s claim that he was wrongly convicted.
Wilson acknowledged that Parker would be harmed by loss of business, one standard for granting an injunction, but he couldn’t claim damages from the state in any case. He wrote:
If, on the other hand, the motion is granted, Parker will be able to provide general and family planning services under Arkansas’s Medicaid Program to needy individuals, including foster children. My concern here lies with the potential harm to which Parker’s Medicaid patients could be exposed.
Wilson questioned Parker’s classification as a Level 1 offender, the lowestpossible.
… Level 1 is usually not appropriate for offenders with sexual interest in children or for those offenders who have a history of working with children or around children if the victim was a child. Parker was convicted of possessing child pornography of a sadistic nature. Furthermore, Parker, a general and family practitioner, works with children on a regular basis and on an intimate level. In view of the nature of his conviction and the nature of his practice, I doubt that the Level 1 classification is accurate.
In light of these concerns, I required the parties to submit materials addressing whether sex offenders convicted of possessing sadistic child pornography posed a threat or danger to patients. The submitted materials lead me to believe that there is no clear scientific answer. It is clear, however, that some non-contact sex offenders, such as Parker, do pose a danger or threat of committing sexual-contact crimes.