Friday, December 21, 2007

The Slugger and the Surgeon

It's a tried-and-true plot device in detective shows: "doctor-patient privilege". A King's "X" for any criminal suspect--whatever you tell your doctor is inadmissible as evidence.

Except it doesn't apply in federal courts, which have their own evidentiary rules. This matters to Barry Bonds because he's facing federal charges. And it matters to Dr. Art Ting, the well-known Bay Area orthopedic surgeon, because he could well wind up sitting in the witness chair during a Bonds trial.

Ting, whose office walls are lined with photos of sports stars, has operated on Bonds more than once. He has literally held the man's multimillion dollar career in his hands. But this time, it could be Bonds' legacy (and freedom) on the operating table.

Ting is not new to this case. He testified before the federal grand jury, and it is known that Ting traveled with Bonds to BALCO when Bonds was having his blood tested. Prosecutors say they have evidence of positive blood tests--which is the basis for their charges against Bonds for telling the grand jury that he had not taken performance-enhancing drugs.

As Bonds' surgeon, one has to assume Ting knew what Bonds was or wasn't taking. If he traveled with Bonds to BALCO, it's hard to imagine he wasn't privy to the test results. And you can bet that if this case goes to trial, Ting is going to be compelled to tell the world what he knows.

This can't be a comfortable prospect for Bonds, or for Ting. He's varnished his career by treating big-name athletes. One has to wonder if this patient will turn out to be a privilege for Dr. Ting.

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