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Case against Virginia Organizing Project director continued


Virginia Organizing Project executive director Joe Szakos showed up to defend against trespassing charges in Henrico General District Court today but the main witness for the prosecution, an employee of Anthem, failed to comply with an issued subpoena to be in court. The case will be continued to Nov. 23 at 1 p.m.

Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Kristen Knudsen asked for a continuance because their key witness was out of town despite having been served the subpoena on August 5, 2009. Szakos’s defense team opposed the motion to continue the trial at a later date but was overruled by Judge L. Neil Steverson. 

Szakos was charged with trespassing on Anthem’s property in Richmond on July 24 when he and three Virginia Organizing Project board members attempted to meet with Anthem officials to discuss their concerns about a recent insurance premium increase and the use of money paid as premiums going to anti-health care reform lobbying. The Virginia Organizing Project pays more than $25,000 per month in premiums for its employees through Anthem.

Szakos issued the following statement on the case:

“I showed up in court today hoping to put this trial behind me, but unfortunately, the key witness for the Commonwealth — an Anthem employee who asked the police to arrest me — must have had more important things to do today. Now the case will be continued until Nov. 23, 2009, wasting more time and resources. I don’t understand why the prosecution’s witness was not in court today. If I did not show up to court today there would have been serious consequences.

“The proceeding today was a shame, a disgrace and a waste of time. This entire process has wasted a lot of taxpayer money. Virginians are already paying outrageous health insurance premiums through Anthem. They should not be forced to pay for the court costs involved with Anthem’s crackdown on customers who question their business practices. I think that Anthem should apologize to the people of Henrico County for making them foot the bill for this nonsense. And then Anthem should apologize to the Virginia Organizing Project for taking up our time and resources with this trial.

“This trial is yet another example of an insurance industry that is out of control and accountable to no one. The fact that a paying customer can be arrested and taken to trial for trespassing on their own insurance company’s doorstep says a lot about the relationship the health insurance industry has with its customers.

“Unfortunately, my mistreatment by Anthem is not unique. Thousands of Anthem customers have experienced rate increases, rejected claims and denied coverage for pre-existing conditions with consequences far worse than having to stand trial.

“The insurance companies don’t care about our health and the health of our families. The private health insurance industry has given us a greedy health insurance system where customers have to deal with skyrocketing premiums, denied claims, and even trespassing charges for asking to speak to a representative in person. We all deserve better than this.”



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