Suppose for a moment that you work as a technician for a large computer company and in the course of your duties, you discover the company is knowingly marketing computers with faulty hard drives destined to crash within a few months.
Imagine now that when you call the defect to the attention of your company CEO, you are fired, ostracized by your industry and unable to find employment because the word is on the street that you are disloyal and suddenly unreliable despite a stellar work record.
Taking this scenario a step further, you suddenly find yourself prosecuted—and persecuted—by your former company’s board of directors on vague charges of fraud and malfeasance. The board, you learn, will go to any length to defend its CEO—including the destruction of your career. Making matters worse, your accuser is also the prosecutor, the judge and the jury in your trial.
Even worse, when you walk into the courtroom, you are informed that you have already been convicted—without benefit of a trial—of unspecified crimes and that if you pay a fine of $25,000 and sign a consent decree, the matter will go away.
You are innocent of any wrongdoing, so of course you tell your accusers to take a long walk off a short pier.
They in turn inform you that there are other charges that haven’t even been mentioned yet and if you refuse to sign the consent decree and decide to stand and fight, your fine will increase to $100,000 or more—plus the fees of your own attorney and those of the prosecuting attorney—and the costs incurred by the “investigator” who discovered your crimes, costs which also could exceed $100,000.
Finally, you are told by one of the board members that you will never be allowed to work again in your field because of a difference in religious beliefs between you and the board.
Now give that company a name like say, the Louisiana State Board of Dentistry, change the product from a computer hard drive to a dental implant and you have a pretty good idea of the plight of Dr. Randall Schaffer.
Schaffer, a 1982 graduate of the University of Iowa College of Dentistry with a Doctor of Dental Surgery, went on to two residencies at Charity Hospital and Louisiana State University Dental and Medical Center in New Orleans. Certified in General Dentistry in 1984 and Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery in 1988, he entered into private practice in oral and maxillofacial surgery in 1988 in Marrero and in Corinth, Mississippi.
More than a decade earlier, Dr. John (Jack) Kent, head of the LSU School of Dentistry’s Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Department, developed a joint replacement device for temporomandibular jaw (TMJ) sufferers. Kent subsequently entered into an agreement with a Houston company, Vitek, and the company’s principal shareholders, Drs. Charles and Ann Homsy, to manufacture and market the Proplast implant.
It proved to be a lucrative arrangement for Kent who was given stock in Vitek and earned royalties of 2 percent to 4 percent on the sale of Vitek products. He also received monetary compensation for giving written and verbal presentations to oral and maxillofacial surgeons throughout the world, according to a lawsuit filed by Schaffer against Kent, LSU, members of the Dental Board, attorney Brian Begue and board investigator Camp Morrison.
It did not take long for the implants to begin to fail, causing disfigurement, excruciating pain and at least eight suicides, according to a July 29, 2002, story in U.S. News & World Report.
As a resident at LSU, Dr. Schaffer became aware of the negative effects to patients receiving the implants, which Schaffer described as “defective (100 percent) in all patients implanted.”
Schaffer says in his lawsuit that he informed Dr. Kent of the “disastrous results” of the implant but Kent refused to stop placement of the devices and “threatened Dr. Schaffer with dismissal should this information regarding the research and adverse results be made public.”
By 1989, Schaffer was in private practice and was assisting implant victims by offering consultation and corrective procedures at no charge. “As hundreds of cases came forward, Dr. Schaffer began assistant plaintiff attorneys in the cases against Dr. Kent, his associates, and Louisiana State University,” the lawsuit says. “Eventually 675 patients were combined as a class for discovery purposes,” leaving the state exposed to about $1 billion in liability.
In 1992, the first case, that of Mary Elizabeth Leger of Jonesboro, Arkansas, was settled for $1 million.
Today, Schaffer lives in Iowa, Vitek is bankrupt, Dr. Charles Homsy is nowhere to be found (though he did surface long enough to write a scathing indictment of “predatory trial lawyers” for the Cato Institute in September of 2001), and DuPont, which manufactured the raw ingredients used in the implants was protected by the “bulk supplier doctrine,” which is a defense to failure-to-warn claims.
When Schaffer was named as a witness and consultant in the class action cases, the Board of Dentistry immediately launched its investigation of Schaffer who says that in 1995, the board “zealously embarked upon an investigation, prosecution and adjudication of a wide variety of claims.”
On Sept. 5, 2000, a board panel consisting of Drs. H.O. Blackwood, Conrad McVea and Dennis Donald revoked Schaffer’s license and imposed “excessive penalties,” Schaffer’s petition says. “The panel members and (then-board executive director) Barry Ogden, (investigator) Camp Morrison, (board attorney) Brian Begue and Arthur Hickham conspired to deprive me of my due process rights during my hearing.”
Begue openly violated a Louisiana Supreme Court order to cease participating in the proceedings by served as both prosecutor and board general counsel, Schaffer’s petition says. While another attorney was ostensibly brought into the matter by the board following the Supreme Court’s ruling barring Begue’s participation, Begue still participated in the proceedings
Even though his revocation was not permanent, Dr. Blackwood, who acted as chairman of Schaffer’s reconsideration hearings in 2004, 2007 and 2012, said on Dec. 7, 2012 that he had promised himself “from the beginning,” that Schaffer would never get his license reinstated.
As blatant as that comment was, it paled in comparison to Dr. McVea’s declaration that because Schaffer had not received his salvation because he had not accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior he could not be expected to comply with professional standards.
Schaffer is Jewish.
Donald added that Schaffer was “a bad person who had hurt people.”
Even if Schaffer’s revocation had been reversed by the courts, in all likelihood, his case would have been remanded back to the same board and the same panel that originally pulled his license as occurred in another disciplinary matter involving a second dentist whom we shall write about in our next post. In effect, the court would have simply thrown Schaffer back to the same pack of wolves, thus making it futile to pursue his case any further before the same group of people.
He said Kent had about 2,500 malpractice lawsuits against him. “I had one, which I won, and yet the board came after me while doing nothing to Dr. Kent,” Schaffer said. “They went behind me to my patients and told them such things as I had killed a patient and that I was going to (the Louisiana State Penitentiary at) Angola. I have accounts receivable in the millions of dollars because I never turned a patient away because he could not pay,” he said.
Once the board had pulled his license, however, it still kept the pressure on Schaffer with no let up.
Schaffer, after being forced out of his practice, leased his office building to another dentist, David Gerard Millaud.
On Dec. 20, 2000, Ogden sent a two-page letter to Dr. Millaud, saying:
“It has come to our attention that you are practicing in the office of Dr. Randall Schaffer…”
Then, in perhaps an unintentional admission that investigator Morrison was continuing to conduct surveillance on Schaffer, whom the board had already broken, Ogden said, “We have also observed Dr. Schaffer’s spending a great deal of time on the office. As you know, his license has been revoked and he is prohibited from practicing dentistry in any form.
“I also wish to call your attention to (state statute) which states:
The board may refuse to issue or may suspend or revoke any license or permit, or impose probationary or other limits or restrictions on any dental license or permit issued under this chapter for any of the following reasons:
Division of fees or other remuneration or consideration with any person not licensed to practice dentistry in Louisiana or an agreement to divide and share fees received for dental services with any non-dentist in return for referral of patients to the licensed dentists, whether or not the patient or legal representative is aware of the arrangement…”
The letter prompted an immediate response from Schaffer’s attorney Michael Ellis of Metairie, who wrote board attorney Jimmy Faircloth (who substituted for Begue after Begue was forced by the Supreme Court to step aside).
“I find it incredulous that the board would write such a letter under the circumstances of this case,” Ellis said. “I know of no law which prohibits Dr. Schaffer from ‘spending a great deal of time in the office.’ The board has effectively put this man out of business and now wants to harass a young dentist to whom Dr. Schaffer is renting space.
“If the board has any evidence whatsoever that either Dr. Millaud or Dr. Schaffer was in violation of the law, I ask that you notify me immediately. If the board is not in possession of such evidence, (Ogden’s) letter must be considered nothing but a tactic of harassment calculated to prevent Dr. Schaffer from earning a living.”
Millaud, who said he was not sharing fees or paying other remuneration to Dr. Schaffer, nevertheless decided that his best interest would be served by terminating his lease arrangement with Schaffer, Ellis said.
Then-State Sen. Chris Ullo (D-Marrero), who died earlier this year, contacted Gov. Mike Foster to intervene with the board on Schaffer’s behalf but Foster declined to get involved with what some might describe as his rogue board.
Then, following Ogden’s letter to Dr. Millaud, Schaffer himself requested an audience with Foster. On Dec. 27, exactly a week following Ogden’s letter to Millaud, Chris Stelly, writing on behalf of Foster, said the board “is an independent body created and empowered” by state law and that the board had “sole jurisdiction over this matter. Therefore, this office does not have the authority to intervene.
“However, I have taken the liberty of forwarding your letter to Mr. C. Barry Ogden, executive director of the LA State Board of Dentistry, for his information.”
That, readers, is what is known as the classic bureaucratic shuffle.