Attorneys representing a 62-year-old Conway doctor accused of multiple sex crimes submitted arguments over the weekend to a Faulkner County judge stating why they believe they should be able to question witnesses' mental health history during trial.
During a motion hearing held in early March, Circuit Judge Charles "Ed" Clawson Jr. said he wanted to hear further arguments from both the defense counsel and prosecutors regarding the legitimacy of including witness and victims' mental health history when determining witness credibility prior to Robert Rook's upcoming trial.
Rook, a local doctor, is currently charged with 11 counts of second-degree sexual assault and 10 counts of third-degree sexual assault. He was previously charged with 13 counts each of rape and second-degree sexual assault along with one count of third-degree sexual assault until Jason Barrett, who is special prosecutor in the case, lessened the charges against Rook last month.
Rook's attorneys have stated they believe it is pertinent to their client's case to question each witness regarding their medical and mental health history.
"In order for the State to try and meet its burden at trial, it will be forced to put the above individuals on the witness stand, and they will have to testify," a brief filed the defense Sunday evening reads in part. "The individuals can only testify if they are competent and must testify truthfully. Additionally, Dr. Rook will have the opportunity to cross examine the individuals, question their credibility and show [inconsistencies] with their accusations."
Questioning each witness about their mental health history will help determine "their ability to perceive or recall things correctly," the defense counsel argues, which would guarantee their client to a fair trial.
Without being able to question each witness' health history, the defense would not be able to find flaws in stories or trust each witness, according to arguments by defense attorney John Kennedy in the March 7 motion hearing.
State prosecutors filed a brief Thursday in Faulkner County Circuit Court regarding the issue at hand.
Barrett argued that each of the witnesses are protected by physician-patient privilege and that their medical background prior to Rook's services should not be addressed during the upcoming trial.
The rights of these individuals should not be violated, Barrett argued, just because Rook works in the medical field.
"The State anticipates that the Defendant will argue that this case is unique given that the victims were under his medical care during the events in question," the Thursday motion reads in part. "However, the fact that these witnesses were victimized by a doctor cannot and should not result in the automatic violation of their privilege. Based upon the forgoing, the patient records sought by the defense are protected by Ark. R. Evid. 503 and should not be subject to discovery by either party."
Barrett also argued that he does not believe the content sought by the defense outweighs physician-patient privilege rights.
"The State should not be required to generate evidence that is not in its possession, as the rules of discovery are not a substitute for the defendant's own investigation ... Most importantly, the physician-patient privilege outweighs discovery rules," the motion reads.
Clawson will make a determination by April 15 as to whether witnesses' medical history should legitimately be addressed during Rook's upcoming trial.
A two-week jury trial is set to begin in Rook's case on May 14 in Faulkner County Circuit Court.
According to court records, Rook was initially charged with three counts each of rape and second-degree sexual assault in June 2016 after three women said the Conway doctor touched them inappropriately at his clinic, Conway Family Practice Clinic at 919 Locust St. Additional charges in his case were filed in September 2016.
One woman said Rook gave her a breast exam without a nurse in the exam room and described it as “not the typical breast exam like she had always undergone by her gynecologist” and said it lasted three to five minutes, according to a probable cause affidavit.
The woman told police she believed what had occurred was inappropriate and that she contacted the state medical licensing board as well as police. This was in October 2015.
Another woman described three visits within a four-week period in which she reported “she felt that the exams done by Rook were very odd, but she said she believed at the time that he was really trying to treat her medical condition and she did not question what he was doing.”
When investigators subpoenaed any complaints filed against Rook with the state medical board, they discovered one filed by the mother of one of Rook’s patients, alleging the doctor fueled her daughter’s Xanax abuse in exchange for sexual contact.
In January, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officers and Conway Police Department investigators interviewed the patient and her mother, noting in the affidavit that the patient “was slow to open up to us.”
She ended up telling authorities Rook gave her prescriptions in exchange for sexual contact, including two instances of oral sex, according to the affidavit.