The Montana Supreme Court granted former Florence physician Chris Christensen a second extension Monday to file the opening appeal brief on his 2017 conviction of 22 felonies, including two counts of negligent homicide.
Christensen, 70, was sentenced to 20 years in prison, with 10 suspended, in February 2018 following a three-week trial on charges that he over-prescribed opioids to patients, including two who died from overdoses.
At sentencing, the judge stayed his trip to prison pending resolution of the expected appeal. Christensen remains free on bail.
Since the sentencing hearing, there have been series of missed deadlines and extensions on both providing the court transcripts and the appeal brief needed by the high court to consider Christensen’s appeal.
The opening brief was originally due May 3. The first extension pushed that back a month. Monday’s extension will give Christensen’s attorney, Josh Van De Wetering, until June 19 to complete the document.
Missoula’s Van De Wetering asked for the extension Friday, saying the case was “large, complex and novel.”
Christensen was originally charged with 400 separate felonies for the treatment of 11 different patients. Prosecutors later condensed the felony charges to 22. The trial lasted nearly three weeks, generated nearly 3,000 pages of transcript and thousands of pages of medical records and documentary evidence, Van De Wetering wrote.
The case alleged that Christensen didn’t meet established medical standards.
“Therefore, the testimony and records were dense with medical terms, procedures and evidence,” Van De Wetering said, which is why it’s complex.
Van De Wetering said it was also the first time the state used three statutes to allege criminal behavior focused on a physician’s prescribing practices.
“In 25 years of practicing and teaching criminal law and procedure in Montana, I have never seen these statute(s) used this way in Montana,” he wrote. “Because of that, it has been necessary to research law in a wide variety of jurisdictions outside of Montana, both state and federal, and to analyze that law in light of established Montana law.”
Van De Wetering told the court that he had been working “diligently” on the case while maintaining his solo law practice. He said he’s hired an additional lawyer to aid in research and writing the brief and has completed about 17 pages of its draft.
“I will continue to work diligently, and have selected the requested due date, June 19, 2019, carefully and with an expectation that I can be finished by then,” he wrote.