Details of Dr Opuni’s medical condition discussed in court as demanded by Evelyn Keelson
Chief State Attorney, Evelyn Keelson, had a field day in court after she was permitted to dissect the medical records of former COCOBOD Chief Executive Dr. Stephen Opuni, to the utter disbelief of her colleague lawyers in the courtroom.
Evelyn Keelson had earlier put up a spirited defence of her resolve to delve into the health status of an accused person when other lawyers rejected the move because the health issue was not the substantive case of why the parties were in court.
Even though she was cleared to ask questions bothering on Dr. Opuni’s health condition, she failed to get the court to reject an excuse notice issued to the former COCOBOD boss.
Dr. Opuni underwent four surgeries on his left eye, specifically his retina, and was given six weeks to rest the left eye to ensure proper healing.
This was brought to the attention of the court on October 11, after the two-month legal vacation, as his counsel, lawyer Samuel Codjoe asked the court for an adjournment.
“My lord, this explains the absence of the first accused in court. My lord, as a result of his absence due to ill health, we pray that this court adjourns this case till the six weeks’ notice,” he said. He also informed the court that his client wants to exercise his right under Article 19 (3), which demands that the trial is conducted in his presence.
But Chief State Attorney Evelyn Keelson, who advocated for a virtual trial of the accused, who is recuperating from a retinal surgery, said that the excuse notice was not binding on the court and also insisted that the medical director who issued the notice be summoned to give “further and better particulars” about the medical records of Dr. Opuni.
The court yielded to the demand of the Chief State Attorney and summoned the medical director, who appeared before the court on October 17.
When he appeared before the court presided over by the retired Supreme Court judge, Justice Clemence Honyenuga, the medical director explained that patients who undergo retinal operations need about six months to completely heal.
“The healing process of epiretinal membrane surgery is between three and six months. Anybody here can check the healing process online,” he told the court.
Early on, the medical director, who is an opthalmologist (an eye surgeon) with several decades of experience, told the court the precarious situation Dr. Opuni was facing.
“He was given post-operative advice for the six weeks excuse duty; the first 14 days of the six weeks, he had to stay head down because of the gas Gas tamponade [inserted in the eye because of the surgery to keep the retina in correct position]. A few days after the operation, he developed high intraocular pressure on the operated left eye and severe photophobia.”
According to him, the intraocular pressure was managed with glaucoma medication, and he was advised to wear dark glasses and avoid light. He has to go for weekly checks for the intraocular pressure to be managed.
The court admitted into evidence the medical folder of Dr Opuni as well as two different Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) test results.
The medical expert said if the high pressure was not managed properly, it would lead to Dr Opuni going blind. “The whole eye can become like stone, so for that reason, he was asked to come every week for us to control the eye pressure.”
The trial judge, Justice Clemence Honyenuga (Rtd), felt “constrained” by the compelling expert account of the medical director who issued the excuse notice and therefore shelved his initial plan of holding a virtual trial, let alone a physical trial.
But when the Chief State Attorney was cleared to cross-examine the medical director, she suggested that once Dr. Opuni was able to visit the clinic every week, he could attend to other duties as well.
“So when he wears his dark glasses, he can attend to duties he is mandated to attend to without any harm,” she asked.
But the medical director explained to her that:
“He wears dark glasses because of photophobia. It can’t correlate with the eye, why because his natural lens is on the right eye, but the left is the artificial lens. The capacity of the artificial lens to absorb light is zero. So focusing on bright things cannot be comfortable.
“All the same, the six weeks is not for the photophobia; it is the retina; with the fragility of the retina, anything can happen.”
The medical director, whose facility gets referrals from The Gambia, Burkina Faso, Togo, Benin, etc., went on to admonish patients to adhere strictly to post-operative advice.
Nonetheless, the Chief State Attorney asserted: “I am putting it to you that the same way Dr. Opuni can attend to a clinic, he can attend to court in this courtroom and sit quietly with his shades without any damages to his retina.”
But the medical director insisted that the excuse notice was to ensure proper healing “and not for the patient to blame the surgeon or the whole clinic” if something goes wrong.
He further stated that the six weeks’ notice was crucial and ought to be observed in every surgery of the retina.
Both counsel for Dr. Opuni and Seidu Agongo, who earlier stated that it was unhealthy to discuss someone’s health status in public, and noted that the cross-examination of the medical director had no bearing on the substantive case, declined when they were invited by the judge to take their turn.
Counsel for Dr. Opuni, lawyer Samuel Codjoe had previously advised Evelyn Keelson to be mindful that “no one has a monopoly over good health”.
Meanwhile, Justice Clemence Honyenuga, who is on retirement and has been given limited time to dispose of the case, has adjourned the hearing to November 7.
The former COCOBOD Chief Executive, Dr. Stephen Opuni, and businessman Seidu Agongo as well as Agricult Ghana Limited, have been facing 27 charges, including defrauding by false pretences, willfully causing financial loss to the state, corruption by public officers and contravention of the Public Procurement Act in the purchase of Lithovit liquid fertiliser between 2014 and 2016.
They have pleaded not guilty to the charges and are on a GH¢300,000.00 self-recognisance bail each.