Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Anthem v Szakos

Joe Szakos, the Executive Director of the Virginia Organizing Project (VOP), appeared in court today, Tuesday September 22nd, in Henrico, VA. Mr. Szakos was arrested at Anthem's headquarters on July 24th while attempting to contact the insurance company regarding recent premium hikes. The VOP, as an employer, is a customer of Anthem and had received an email from the company asking the customers to urge their members of Congress to oppose health care reform.

The VOP provided us with a copy of the email that they received from Anthem. In it, Anthem states their opposition to the public option, and touts their claim to "strongly support reform that builds a strong, sustainable private-sector health care system." Anthem urged customers to sign up with the Health Action Network, who, coincidentally, supports building a "a strong, sustainable private-sector health care system." The email also asked customers to contact Congress, stating that "As our elected officials debate health care, they need to hear directly from you." The VOP received this email while Anthem was raising their premiums by 14%. Mr. Szakos was outraged that customers had to pay more, all while Anthem continues paying lobbyists to fight against the reforms proposed in Washington, DC.

The day ended with a continuance since the Commonwealth's main witness, Anthem's representative who ordered the police to arrest Mr. Szakos, was absent the state, although a subpoena had been issued. The key point argued today were subpoena's for Anthem CEO C. Burke Kind and Director of Public Relations Scott Golden to appear as witnesses. The defense argued that the CEO of Anthem had to answer for the actions of the company, specifically for arresting Mr. Szakos. Mr. Szakos' attorney also claimed that Mr. Golden has told him he was in the lobby during the event. The prosecution argued that the VOP was only calling the CEO for political reasons, as a form of protest. Mr. Szakos flat out rejected that accusation. Ultimately, the Judge accepted the motion to quash a subpoena for Mr. King to appear, but ordered Mr. Golden to obey his subpoena.

Mr. Szakos returns to court on November 23rd. We will post our video coverage of Tuesday's press conference outside the court house just as soon as it is ready.
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