The wife of a former doctor, who lost in a bid to convince a Chester County Court judge that she did not know her husband was illegally dispensing narcotics from their home, appealed her case yesterday.
The move to Superior Court by Janice K. Brown is part of an effort to prevent losing the $400,000 home under state drug forfeiture laws.
It's the latest step in court action that stems from the 2001 arrest of her husband, Richard A. Brown, 62, who was charged with 106 counts of drug-law violations.
During an eight-month undercover probe, police said Brown routinely prescribed drugs such as Percocet and Xanax from his home office. The cash-only deals required no medical exams, police said.
Brown, who pleaded no contest to a single violation in May 2003, received a sentence of five years' probation. His license to practice medicine was suspended in July 2004, court records said.
Although Janice Brown has never been charged with a crime, under the drug forfeitures act she has to prove that she was an "innocent owner" with no knowledge of any illicit activity in order to halt government efforts to take the split-level home on Old Eagle School Road.
The Browns continue to occupy the home, which they bought for $230,000 in 1998.
The state is also trying to seize $700,000 in bank accounts controlled by Brown's husband under the same law that allows the government to take assets used in drug dealing. Senior Deputy Attorney General Nancy S. Hartsough said it was uncertain whether Janice Brown's appeal would delay that effort.
Nagle's decision was filed Dec. 27.
In his 30-page opinion, Nagle called Janice Brown, a licensed pharmacist, "an intelligent and educated woman" and questioned her "innocent owner" defense.
"I find it impossible under the totality of the facts presented to me to believe that she lived in the same house where her husband daily practiced medicine, yet remained ignorant of his proscribed conduct," Nagle wrote.
Nagle referred to Janice Brown's testimony that she prepared and filed "fraudulent tax returns" and that after her husband's arrest, she deposited cash receipts from patients into her "solely owned account."
The judge also cited the testimony of East Whiteland Township Police Officer David Marra, who described the "disheveled condition" of Brown's office, including outdated medicine in the office refrigerator and nonexistent patient files.
"There was no testimony that Mrs. Brown was familiar with the contents of the refrigerator or examined patient charts while she was cleaning her husband's office," Nagle wrote.
But, he added, "she would obviously have noted the condition of the office, which lacked the usual accoutrements of a medical practice," Nagle wrote.
Janice Brown's attorneys - Joel Frank, the well-known Philadelphia lawyer Richard A. Sprague, and Joseph R. Podraza Jr. - maintain that their client learned about the alleged illegal activity only after her husband's arrest, when she assisted in his defense.
Frank, who said he was disappointed by Nagle's decision, said he believed the government faced a difficult burden in proving a connection between Richard Brown's assets and any illicit activity.
"We fully contest the commonwealth's underlying case," he said.