The Republican governor of Nevada has done what Bobby Jindal for eight interminable years refused to do and what Gov. John Bel Edwards should have already done.
Gov. Brian Sandoval, saying, “There’s something not right here and it needs to be fixed,” ordered Nevada’s state dental board on Nov.8 to address—and fix—problems of corruption, bullying and extortion rampant in the board’s patient-complaint/resolution process.
A STORY in the Las Vegas Review-Journal sounded eerily familiar to a number of LouisianaVoice stories dating back to March 2014 about abuses perpetrated by the Louisiana State Board of Dentistry through harassment, intimidation, and exorbitant penalties—including ruined careers—for minor infractions and sometimes none at all.
And should Edwards take it upon himself to rein in the rogue dental board, he may well also wish to take a long hard look at a few other boards that have gone off the reservation over the years.
- Here are just a few that warrant a closer look:
- The State Board of Cosmetology;
- The Auctioneers Licensing Board;
- The State Board of Medical Examiners;
- The State Board of Examiners of Psychologists
Each of these boards has been the subject of considerable controversy over the manner in which they investigate complaints and assess penalties without giving their targets the benefit of the same due process to which accused criminals are entitled under 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Several dentists and dental hygienists protested a $500,000 increase in the contract for the Nevada dental board’s outside legal counsel, John Hunt and their testimony quickly escalated to shouting a crying by those who said Hunt coerced them to acknowledge wrongdoing and to pay money to the dental board.
Several of them accused Hunt of benefitting from money collected by the board.
As we said earlier, eerily familiar.
At least in Nevada, complaints by victims of the dental board led to action.
A legislative audit of the board concluded that the board imposed excessive penalties on those it was investigating and also took issue with the board’s handling of Hunt’s contract. The board’s handling of patient complaints, it said, left targets of investigations with the belief that they either had to accept a settlement agreement or risk steeper punishment if found guilty in a final board hearing.
“That’s where the allegation of extortion comes in,” State Assemblyman Glenn Trowbridge, a member of the subcommittee that conducted the audit, said in June. “Either pay me now or we’ll look into it deeper and you’ll pay me more.”
Sandoval appoints the members of the dental board. He said the time has come for the 11-member board to address the problem. Citing his experience with other state boards during his political career, he said, “I’ve never seen …people as upset as they are.”
The board, following Sandoval’s scolding, postponed action on Hunt’s contract amendment.
A 1980 U.S. Supreme Court specifically addressed the issue of excessive penalties in the case of U.S. Secretary of Labor v. Jerrico, Inc.
In that case, the Supreme Court reduced a $103,000 penalty to $18,000 in that the higher penalty constituted an unconstitutional risk of bringing “impermissible factors into the prosecutorial decision.”
In an earlier, even more pointed decision, the Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that “board members’ pecuniary interest disqualified them from passing on issues.”
In citing an Alabama case in which the Board of Optometry revoked the licenses of all optometrists employed by corporations such as Lee Optical, the court said, “Because the Board of Optometry was composed solely of optometrists in private practice for their own account, the District Court concluded that success in the board’s efforts would possibly (contribute) to the personal benefit of members of the board, sufficiently so that in the opinion of the District Court, the Board was disqualified from hearing the charges filed against the appellees.
“It is sufficiently clear from our cases,” the court continued, “that those with substantial pecuniary interest in legal proceedings should not adjudicate these disputes.”
As simple to understand as that ruling is, one must wonder why, 43 years later, the Louisiana Board of Dentistry and other licensing boards in the State of Louisiana are still allowed to operate their own respective fiefdoms with carte blanche.
Are their legal counsels not able to read and understand the law?
Is there not a single board member among them with the decency to say, “This isn’t right”?