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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Dr. Heimlich's Family Strife Leads to Libel Lawsuit

CLEVELAND (TDB) -- Spilllover from internal fractures within the family of Dr. Henry Heimlich -- esteemed inventor of the life-saving maneuver that bears his name -- has led to a libel suit against Cleveland Scene, an alternative weekly that recently showered state medical boards, med schools and hospitals with subpoenas seeking data to defend its journalism.

Heimlich, who is in his 80s, has retired and turned in his medical license. He lives in Cincinnati where one son, Phil, is a convervative Republican county commissioner who dabbled briefly in statewide Ohio politics as a candidate for lieutenant governor. Another son, Peter, has split from his father and runs a Web site that disparages Henry Heimlich's accomplishments. He has phoned journalists trying to get them to do stories that are unflattering about his dad.

Cleveland Scene, which has a reputation for muckraking, has been accused of taking the bait.

It ran an article in October 2004 under the headline "Playing Doctor," with a subhead that added: "Lying on a resume isn't a crime -- except when a doctor does it. Luckily for Edward Patrick, the Ohio Medical Board is forgiving."

The story was about Patrick, a physician who once worked alongside Henry Heimlich and supported him after Heimlich battled the medical establishment over the effectiveness of the "Heimlich Maneuver" as an aid to help choking and drowning victims. In short, the story questioned Patrick's credentials and implied that some were fakes.

Patrick, who went to MIT and holds a Ph.D. in electrical engineering as well as certifcation as an M.D., went on the offensive by filing suit for libel, defamation and invasion of privacy last year. (Northern District of Ohio, 1:05-cv-2791.) He is gathering a vast array of material that his lawyers say will refute Cleveland Scene's story. Eventually, he may call Henry Heimlich as a witness. But first he wants to keep some records from oozing out of the courthouse. He now wants a protective order from U.S. District Judge Lesley Wells in Cleveland to block Peter Heimlich from posting records about his background on the Internet. Patrick lives in Wheeling, W.Va.

''All of these documents should be maintained confidential and should not be released to the public,'' his lawyers, N. Jeffrey Blankenship and Edward S. Monohan of Florence, Ky., contended in a recent court filing. ''The plaintiff is aware that the primary source for the defendant is Peter Heimlich, the son of Dr. Henry Heimlich. Dr. Patrick and Dr. Heimlich in the past maintained a close professional relationship."

Patrick's lawyers said the Heinrich family feud is at the heart of the case.

''Peter Heimlich has, for some reason, engaged in a major ambition in his life with the goal thereof to destry the reputation of his father and that of Dr. Patrick. For that reason, he has established a Web site of all current information available on Dr. Patrick and Dr. Heimlich,'' they wrote . "As a result, Dr. Patrick is concerned that very confidential and private information, if made public, will find its ways into the hands of Peter Heimlich, or for that matter, and other person who may seek to use it against him."

Cleveland Scene has indicated it opposes any attempt to close portions of the case file. And so far, Judge Wells has not made any move to shut the records. On Friday, she ordered both sides to sit down in a settlement conference set for April 25. But long before that takes place, the judge said she plans to have a telephone conference with lawyers for Patrick and the alt/weekly in early January that will focus on the status of the case.

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