Attorney Eric Deters takes center stage, judge's wrath in Dr. Atiq Durrani case

First lawsuit against spine surgeon goes to trial

CINCINNATI –  Flamboyant attorney Eric Deters took center stage Monday and incurred the wrath of a judge when the first of hundreds of lawsuits he is filing against an indicted Mason spine doctor finally got to a courtroom.

It took three-and-a-half years for Crystal Pierce's suit against Dr. Atiq Durrani to get to Judge Ethna Cooper and only a few minutes for the fireworks to begin.

After an extended meeting in chambers, Deters admitted in open court that he had taped a phone conversation with Durrani’s defense attorney, Michael Lyon, without Lyon’s knowledge or permission, transcribed it and distributed copies to lawyers for two hospitals that are defendants in some of the 175 suits he has already filed against Durrani.

Still serving a second suspension in Kentucky for misconduct, Deters said he was glad he did it because it showed that Lyons stood to benefit from Durrani fleeing the country last month.

Deters said Lyons told him he had communicated by email and phone with Durrani in Pakistan.  Deters also said Lyons had told him a story about a case in Lima, Ohio, that had benefitted when an expert witness wouldn't travel from Hawaii to Lima.

Standing in the center of the courtroom and speaking loudly into the mic, Deters said Lyons is “better off defending (Durrani) without his presence.”

Deters swore to Cooper he had never secretly taped another attorney in 25 years of practice but he did this time “to cover my butt.”

Lyon had opened Monday’s proceedings by requesting a continuance. He gave Deters’ taping as one reason, calling it a breach of confidence and saying he had only been notified about it Monday morning.

Lyon also said Durrani’s absence made his defense difficult. Durrani was deposed on Nov. 29, and Cooper had ruled he could be tried in absentia.

Lyons also expressed concern about whether he and his law firm would get paid.

Deters scoffed at both arguments.

“He’s got an ethical obligation to represent Dr. Durrani,” Deters said of Lyon, and he blamed Durrani for causing any problems for his defense.

“Everybody’s worried about Dr. Durrani, but (his problems) were self-inflicted.”

Lyon explained the story he told to Deters, saying he only mentioned that a radiologist in another case didn’t want to travel from Hawaii to Lima and that it had nothing to do with Durrani.

Lyon also said he notified authorities and Deters “the minute I found out Dr. Durrani was in Pakistan.”

In the end, Deters successfully deflected Lyons’ request for a continuance while taking his medicine from Cooper.

Cooper said she was “appalled” that Deters would tape Lyons.

“It’s a personal affront,” she said, but she agreed with Deters that his taping was “not part of this (the lawsuit).

“There are 300 jurors downstairs waiting for this case,” Cooper said. “We brought in extra people and we’re going to trial.

“And if there’s any illegal conduct, there will be a mistrial.”

The case was assigned to Visiting Judge Guy C. Guckenberger.

Jury selection was completed on Tuesday. The first witness in the case will take the stand Wednesday.

When Pierce sued Durrani in June 2010, she claimed Durrani scared her into performing unnecessary spine surgery by telling her she was “in grave danger of becoming immediately paralyzed.” Then he botched the operation, the suit says.

RELATED: See Pierce’s lawsuit

A 36-count federal indictment and Deters' lawsuits claim Durrani performed unnecessary surgeries between 2008 and 2013.

The indictment says Durrani charged public and private insurers millions of dollars for fraudulent services. In their suits, many of his former patients claim Durrani’s surgery worsened their conditions.

RELATED: Read the indictment.

Deters announced Monday that he intends to file 220 more lawsuits against Durrani “by the end of February and 45 percent of those will be in Hamilton County.”

Trials have already been scheduled into 2015 with 14 judges assigned to hear them.

Durrani professed his innocence in an exclusive interview with WCPO's Tom McKee last August.

RELATED: Watch McKee's entire interview with Durrani.

Durrani skipped the country after Ohio and Kentucky suspended his license in November.

Durrani owns a private practice called the Centers for Advanced Spine Technologies (CAST) with offices in Evendale and Florence and most recently performed surgeries at JourneyLite in Evendale, where he is part owner.

Between 2007 and 2013, Durrani performed surgery at West Chester Hospital UC Health, Children's Hospital, Good Samaritan, Christ and Deaconess, but he no longer has privileges at any of those hospitals, the indictment says.

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