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Archive for the ‘Health Care’ Category

Oral arguments are scheduled to be heard on Nov. 7 in the First Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge on a three-year-old matter that a layman unfamiliar with the way in which judges can manipulate and interpret laws to keep the meter running would think should have been settled two years ago.

But settling cases quickly and decisively is not the way the courts work and because of that, the case involving the unconstitutional closure of Huey P. Long Medical Center (HPLMC) in Pineville in 2014 rocks on, continuing to rack up fees for contract attorneys for the state—all paid for thanks to the generosity of Louisiana taxpayers.

Meanwhile, the fate of some 570 employees has been held in abeyance since the hospital’s closure on June 30, 2014.

And the manner in which its closure was approved prompted the lawsuit by plaintiffs Edwin Ray Parker, Kenneth Brad Ott and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

Here’s the way it all went down:

At 4:07 p.m. on April 1, 2014, a notice of the April 2 meeting at 9 a.m. of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee to consider Senate Concurrent Resolution (SCR) 48 which “Provides for legislative approval of and support to the Board of Supervisors of Louisiana State University for the strategic collaboration with the state in creating a new model of health care delivery in the Alexandria and Pineville areas.”

A “new model of health care delivery” was a clever way of wording the SCR so as not to tip the hand of the Jindal administration’s intent to shutter the doors of HPLMC. Who could possibly be expected to discern from that goony-babble that in less than 24 hours, the decision would become final to close the facility?

There were only two key things wrong, either of which should have been sufficient grounds to stop closure of HPLMC.

First, the Senate’s own rules promulgated in accordance with the Louisiana Open Meetings Law LA 42:19(B), which says that notice of all such meetings must be posted no later than 1:00 p.m. the day prior to the meeting and if notice is posted after 1:00 p.m., the agenda item may not be heard the next day. (emphasis added)

Second, in a 1986 case, the U.S. Supreme Court held that:

A concurrent resolution…makes no binding policy; it is ‘a means of expressing fact, principles, opinions, and purposes of the two House (House of Representatives and Senate).” (emphasis added)

Attorney J. Arthur Smith, III of Baton Rouge argues that Article III, Paragraph 14 of the Louisiana Constitution provides that the style of a law “shall be ‘…enacted by the Legislature of Louisiana’” and Paragraph 15(A) which says rather bluntly, “The legislature shall enact no law except by a bill introduced during that session…” (emphasis added)

Smith said, “The Legislature cannot amend Louisiana statutes by resolution” because an enacting clause “distinguishes legislative action as law rather than a mere resolution” as held in First National Bank of Commerce, New Orleans v. J.R. Eaves in that “failure to include a significant portion of the enacting clause renders the law unconstitutional.”

To put all that in plain English, Smith is simply pointing out case precedents which hold that a concurrent resolution is not the same as a legislative bill and therefore, is not binding.

That’s pretty straightforward and something that a first-year law student should be able to comprehend.

Yet, when the state appealed the ruling of State Judge Pro-Tem Robert Downing of June 23, 2014, which granted plaintiff’s request for a preliminary injunction because the Senate committee violated the Open Meetings Law and provisions of Article III of the Louisiana Constitution, the First Circuit managed somehow to overlook the violations.

Instead, it ruled the state’s appeal as moot since HPLMC closed on June 30, 2014, seven days after Downing’s ruling and the First Circuit did so without even bothering to address the issues on which Downing’s ruling was based.

Moreover, the state appealed directly to the Louisiana Supreme Court on the basis of the declaration of the unconstitutionality of SCR 48. On Jan. 13, 2017, the Supreme Court denied the state’s appeal as moot but on Feb. 24 of this year, granted a rehearing to the First Circuit.

So now, a three-judge panel comprised of Judge John Michael Guidry, Judge John T. Pettigrew and Judge William J. Crain will hear arguments on the constitutionality of SCR 48 and of violations of the Open Meetings Law.

Interestingly, the state argues that notices to the public “need not contain anything other than a bill number” and that the Senate “has no obligation to inform the public of the nature or substance of the legislative proposals it will be considering.”

Now that’s a damned interesting concept. Who knew we, the public, had no right to be informed of what our elected representatives are up to? Who knew the people we elect and send to Baton Rouge have “no obligation” to let us know what they’re cooking up in the House that Huey built? Who knew the Bobby Jindal administration could push a concurrent resolution through the Senate and call it a law? Who knew such upright public servants as Jindal and members of the Senate committee would flim-flam us?

Louisiana R.S. 42:24 authorizes the courts to void “any action taken in violation” provided a lawsuit to void any action “must be commenced within 60 days of the action.”

The Baton Rouge firm of Taylor, Porter, Brooks & Phillips is representing the State in the HPLMC litigation.

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Long before he took an oath of office to serve first in the Louisiana Legislature and later in the U.S. Senate, Bill Cassidy took the Hippocratic Oath.

But one would never know that from the abomination called the Cassidy-Graham Bill that, if passed would replace the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare.

This is not a defense of Obamacare. I know little about the ACA other than (a) it has provided health care for millions, including about 400,000 in Louisiana who otherwise would have no health care insurance, and (b) it’s far from perfect.

From what little I know about it, a single-pay plan seems to be the best alternative—if there must be an alternative plan for one that could probably be rescued with a little bipartisanship and a common-sense approach to correcting and improving existing problems. (I know, bipartisanship and cooperation in politics have gone the way of the telephone booth and Life magazine.)

That said, it’s pretty obvious that the Republicans in Congress are far less interested in the welfare of poor Americans, particularly those with pre-existing conditions, than they are in beating down anything with the Obama name attached to it.

And that’s the issue in a nutshell: Obama. They couldn’t get him on his citizenship or his religion, so they (with apologies to Fed-Ex) “absolutely, positively” have to erase all evidence that he ever existed. In a Congress hopelessly gridlocked on everything, it’s the one issue on which most Republicans are fixated: Get rid of Obamacare if we don’t do anything else—and we probably won’t (do anything else, that is).

Cassidy and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are just the latest to attach their names to that list of Republicans who would defeat Obamacare at all costs, no matter the consequences to millions of working poor Americans.

That said, their latest attempt at tearing down Obamacare would leave those with pre-existing conditions the most vulnerable. Both senators claim that no one would lose coverage under the latest plot against Obamacare disguised as an alternative, but in reality, their premiums would be unaffordable.

Scott Adams, creator of the popular Dilbert comic strip read daily in hundreds of newspapers, has his own take on Cassidy-Graham, which would transfer responsibility to the states.

“The responsible approach,” Adams says, “would be to test some healthcare ideas in a few states or counties and then work with what we learned. A wholesale change such as transferring responsibility to the states is reckless and, in my opinion, unethical. The unethical part is that moving funding to the states is little more than a political trick to protect Republicans in the 2018 elections. It has nothing to do with helping citizens.

“…I am forgiving of politicians who intentionally exaggerate and ignore facts, so long as their intentions appear to be directed at the greater good. But shifting money for healthcare to the states is for the benefit of Congress, not the greater good.

“My bottom line is that I can support a government plan that involves testing small before going big. But going big on an untested idea is not leadership. It is just bad management, or worse.”

Isn’t it interesting that a cartoonist would have such a firm grasp on the obvious when our elected officials can’t seem to come to grips with reality? But then it was a cartoonist (Thomas Nast) who helped bring down New York City’s William M. “Boss” Tweed.

The issue long ago ceased to be about health care: it’s all about Obama, plain and simple. Nothing else. And whether you like him or not, that should not be the focus—but sadly, it has become an obsession with Republicans, particularly those who identify with two of the most divisive Americans of the 20th century—Donald Trump and Rush Limbaugh, with honorable mention to Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and a few others.

It has reached the point that Republicans in Congress are crawling over each other to be the one who can make the claim in his re-election campaign that he was the one who delivered us up from the evils of Obamacare.

And that’s a damn poor excuse to embark on a crusade of destruction.

Cassidy, in taking the HIPPOCRATIC OATH, swore, among other things, to the best of ability and judgment to:

  • Apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures which are required;
  • Remember that…warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife of the chemist’s drug;
  • Not be ashamed to say, “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are need for a patient’s recovery;
  • Tread with care in matters of life and death;
  • Remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems;
  • Remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the inform.

There is another PRINCIPLE taught in health care providing classes that often is mistakenly thought to be part of the Hippocratic Oath but in fact, is not.

It is the Latin phrase primum non nocere.

Translated, it says, “First do no harm.”

The point of “first do no harm” is that, in certain situations, it may well be better to do nothing rather than intervening and potentially causing more harm than good.

Dr. Cassidy appears to have forgotten a lot that he learned.

Or perhaps he was just absent on those days as he was on those occasions when he billed LSU for teaching classes while in he was in Washington.

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Good Jobs First, a Washington, D.C.-based national policy resource center, has released an extensive study entitled Megadeals: The Largest Economic Development Subsidy Packages Ever Awarded by State and Local Governments in the United States.

Louisiana, with giveaways totaling $3,169,600,328, ranked sixth behind New York, Michigan, Oregon, New Mexico and Washington in the total dollar amount of so-called megadeals, the report shows, $65 million more than much-larger Texas, which had $3,104,800,000.

Louisiana, with 11, tied with Tennessee for fifth place in the number of such budget-busting deals behind Michigan’s 29, New York’s 23 and 12 each for Texas and Ohio.

The report, authored by Philip Mattera and Kasia Tarczynska, is somewhat dated in that it was published in 2013 but it still offers some valuable insights into how states, Louisiana in particular, was more than willing to give subsidies worth millions upon millions of dollars to corporations in the name of new jobs that rarely, if ever, materialized.

The subsidies included in the report, it should be noted, do not include tax incentives, which is another type of inducement. Accordingly, Wal-Mart, which has received more than $1.2 billion in total taxpayer assistance, is not included because its deals were worth less than $75 million each. Good Jobs First has documented giveaways to Wal-Mart in a separate report.

The single biggest example of corporate socialism contained in the report is the 30-year discounted-electricity deal worth an estimated $5.6 billion given by the New York Power Authority to Alcoa. In all, 16 of the Fortune 50 corporations (excluding Wal-Mart) were included as recipients of the report’s megadeals.

The biggest single deal for Louisiana—and the fifth-biggest overall—was the $1.69 billion subsidy in 2010 for Cheniere Energy in the form of property tax abatements and other subsidies for the Sabine Pass natural gas liquefaction plant. That project, the report said, created 225 new jobs—a cost to the state of more than $7,500 per job, the largest single cost-per-job project contained in the report.

Shintech, received a 2012 deal worth $187.2 million in subsidies to the company. That project was said to have created 50 new Louisiana jobs at a cost of $3,744 per job.

One of the biggest recipients of governmental largesse since the year 2000 has been General Motors with more than $529 in subsidies nationwide. Yet, it was General Motors who pulled up stakes pulled up stakes in 2012, leaving upwards of 3,000 former employees without jobs.

The megadeals cited by Good Jobs First in its report were dwarfed, however, by the seemingly insane subsidies given to banks and investment firms since 2000.

Of the top 21 recipients of bailouts by the federal government, the smallest was that of a company most probably never heard of: Norinchukin Bank, a Japanese cooperative bank serving more than 5,600 agricultural, fishing and forestry cooperatives from its headquarters in Tokyo—and it received $105 billion (with a “B”).

That’s nothing when compared with the heavy hitters. In all, 12 foreign corporations received loans, loan guarantees or bailout assistance from a generous federal U.S. government, led by the $942.7 billion received by the United Kingdom’s Barclays.

But Barclays ranked only fifth in terms of subsidies received in the form of federal bailouts:

Consider, if you will, the top four:

  • Bank of America $3.5 trillion;
  • Citigroup $2.6 trillion;
  • Morgan Stanley $2.1 trillion;
  • JPMorgan Chase $1.3 trillion.

All of this, of course, was the direct result of deregulation pushed by a congress whose members were supported by generous campaign contributions from CEOs, officers and stockholders of those very firms.

And yet we have elected officials—and citizens—who dare to rail against so-called welfare cheats, the costs of illegal immigrants, and the costs of health care for the poor.

These are the same people who wring their hands at the cost of social programs yet justify the expenditure of billions of dollars per day in military contracts to campaign contributors to support wars with no apparent objective (other than political payback) and with no end in sight.

These are the same ones who look us in the eye and tell us they support free market capitalism.

But pure capitalism doesn’t give away the public bank in order to entice some company that was probably coming to your state anyway. After all, if Louisiana truly has all these rich oil and gas deposits (and it does), does anyone really believe the oil and gas companies are going to locate their refining plants and pipelines in Idaho in order to mine for Louisiana’s resources?

You can check that box “no.”

What is the logic behind subsidies to lure an industry just so it can exploit cheap labor? Wouldn’t it be smarter to invest in public education and higher education so that our citizens might be capable of demanding higher wages for their knowledge and skills? Why would we opt to perpetuate the cycle of poverty by sacrificing taxpayer dollars to the advantage of some faceless corporation who cares not one whit for our citizens?

Free market capitalism doesn’t reward corporations with these kinds of subsidies while the recipients are simultaneously sending job oversees, depriving Americans of job opportunities.

Pure capitalism would dictate that each and every business in America succeed or fail on its own merit, without having to depend on governmental handouts.

Anything else has to be considered as something akin to (gasp) ….socialism.

But insisting on capitalism for the poor and socialism for corporations and the wealthy is a formula for disaster if ever such formula existed. The two philosophies are simply not compatible

And you will never get that lesson from the disciples of Ayn Rand.

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quid pro quo

ˌkwid ˌprō ˈkwō/

noun

A favor or advantage granted or expected in return for something.

Unless decisive action it taken over the next few days, our theory that nothing gets done about official chicanery, shady dealings and outright corruption will have been validated at the highest levels of state government.

And lest there are those who think I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, let me assure them that I will keep pounding the keyboard as long as I am physically and mentally able to put the glare of the spotlight on them and their deeds.

At one point in 2015, someone said to me, “Once Bobby Jindal leaves office, you won’t have anything to write about.”

Not a chance.

Unfortunately, as long as politicians are intoxicated by money and power, there will be plenty to write about. And, as Johnny Mathis sang his song The Twelfth of Never, “that’s a long, long time.”

Take Kristy Nichols, for example. Someone, please. (Sorry, Henny Youngman.)

Or, just for fun, compare the strikingly similar cases of Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry.

Kristy, as LouisianaVoice reported last September, jumped the Jindal ship to join Ochsner Health System as Vice President of Government and Corporate Affairs (read: lobbyist).

https://louisianavoice.com/2015/09/17/more-on-kristys-new-job-it-seems-ochsner-gets-17-6-million-for-running-chabert-hospital/

The only problem with that was that as Commissioner of Administration for Jindal, she presided over virtually every facet of state government except the legislative and judicial branches, but worked closely with those as well. State law prohibited her from lobbying the administrative and legislative branches but apparently there was nothing to prevent her from lobbying local governmental entities.

On November 5, 2015, less than two months following our story, Kimberly L. Robinson, an attorney with the Jones Walker law firm, acting on behalf of Ochsner, requested an advisory opinion on the question of whether or not Kristy could legally lobby the state.

A month later, Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards named Robinson as the new Secretary of the Department of Revenue, prompting her resignation from Jones Walker.

http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2015/12/john_bel_edwards_appoints_kimb.html

Robinson was replaced by R. Gray Sexton as counsel for Kristy.

Sexton was an obvious choice, given his years as Chief Administrator for the Louisiana Board of Ethics. His knowledge of the system was so keen that in 2007, he pulled his own end-run when he resigned and the board immediately rehired him in a new capacity which allowed him to skirt a requirement under a newly-passed ethics law that he disclose clients in his private law practice (how’s that for irony?).

http://blog.nola.com/times-picayune/2007/07/ethics_administrator_quits_the.html

But back to Kristy’s dilemma.

On December 16, Sexton submitted a request to the ethics board to withdraw the request for an advisory opinion. Then, on January 22, 2016, Sexton submitted an Application for Declaratory Opinion on behalf of Kristy. That was followed by a request to withdraw the Application for Declaratory Opinion on March 31. The board granted the request to withdraw at its April 15 meeting.

The chronology was provided to LouisianaVoice in an e-mail Tuesday (Aug. 2) from Deborah S. Grier, Executive Secretary for the Board of Ethics. Here is that email:

——– Original message ——–

From: Deborah Grier <Deborah.Grier@LA.GOV>

Date: 8/2/16 9:14 AM (GMT-06:00)

To: azspeak@cox.net

Subject: RE: Opinion on Kristy Nichols: Public Records Requests

Good morning, Mr. Aswell:

Pursuant to your public records request of July 29, 2016 regarding an opinion issued by the Board with respect to former Commission of Administration Kristy Nichols’ employment as a lobbyist by Ochsner Health System, please be advised of the following:

A request for an advisory opinion dated November 5, 2015 was submitted by Kimberly L. Robinson with the Jones Walker law firm on behalf of Ochsner Health System and Kristy Nichols.  Ms. Robinson subsequently left the private practice of law and was replaced by R. Gray Sexton as counsel for Ms. Nichols as indicated in correspondence to our office from Mr. Sexton dated December 11, 2015.  On December 16, 2015, a request to withdraw the request for an advisory opinion was submitted to our office.  The Board considered and granted the request to withdraw the request for an advisory opinion at its December 18, 2015 meeting.

 Mr. Sexton, by correspondence dated January 22, 2016, submitted to the Board an Application for Declaratory Opinion on behalf of Ms. Nichols.  A request to withdraw the Application for Declaratory Opinion was received by this office on March 31, 2016.  The Board considered and granted the request to withdraw the Application for Declaratory Opinion at its April 15, 2016 meeting.
No opinion has been rendered by the Board with respect to this issue.
Should you have any questions or need additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,
Deborah

Deborah S. Grier
Executive Secretary
Louisiana Board of Ethics

So, what does all that mean?

Could it be that Ochsner and Kristy have decided to let sleeping dogs lie? After all, if she proceeds with lobbying efforts and no one files an official complaint, then it’s no harm, no foul, right? That would certainly run true to form for Jindal’s Gold Standard of Ethics.

A quick check by LouisianaVoice, however, revealed that Kristy is not registered among any of Ochsner Health System’s 10 lobbyists. Sexton told LouisianaVoice today that Ochsner had apparently decided not to pursue the matter and it was his understanding that the company was pursuing “other plans” for Nichols. “Ochsner has a number of other lobbyists,” he said.

So if she is not a registered lobbyist, then just what is it that she does to earn her keep as Vice President of Government and Corporate Affairs?

Or was her employment simply some form of payback as we initially suggested in light of the $31 million Ochsner received in takeover of the Leonard Chabert Medical Center by Southern Regional Medical Corp. and Ochsner as part of Jindal’s haphazard state hospital privatization plan?

https://tomaswell.files.wordpress.com/2015/09/terms-of-the-ochsner-deal-at-leonard-chabert-medical-center.pdf

We’d no sooner received Ms. Grier’s email on Tuesday than the Baton Rouge Advocate posted a couple of stories, also on Tuesday, that caught our eye.

The first involved a claim by Gonzales City Council candidate Wayne Lawson that Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa and Gonzales businessman Olin Berthelot attempted to bribe him not to seek a city council seat against incumbent Neal Bourque.

The Pelican Post news website first published the report that Matassa and Berthelot had offered Lawson $1,200 and a parish job if he would withdraw from the race. The deadline to withdraw was last Friday (July 29) at noon. Lawson, after posing for a photograph with the cash, a parish job application form and candidate withdrawal forms, returned the money and documents to Berthelot’s office without completing either of the forms.

http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/communities/ascension/article_d9fda80a-58df-11e6-884c-d3779607197c.html

Ricky Babin, District Attorney for the 23rd Judicial District, said his office would investigate Lawson’s claims. He said the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office and the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office are also investigating the allegations.

The Attorney General’s Office may be in something of a quandary as it embarks on that investigation, however.

The second Baton Rouge Advocate story, by reporter Gordon Russell, conjured up the ethics complained filed against Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal.

http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/politics/article_6f7a7990-58e9-11e6-9cd1-a36f0eb42bbf.html

https://tomaswell.files.wordpress.com/2016/03/ethics-complaint.pdf

https://louisianavoice.com/2016/03/03/between-beating-guilty-pleas-sexual-harassment-lawsuit-and-ethics-complaint-iberia-sheriff-louis-ackal-has-his-plate-full/

https://louisianavoice.com/2016/03/09/one-week-after-louisianavoice-story-feds-hand-down-three-count-indictment-of-iberia-parish-sheriff-ackal-top-deputy/

In his story, Russell said that Landry, after trailing incumbent Buddy Caldwell by two percentage points in the primary election for Attorney General last October, received the endorsement of third place finisher Geri Broussard Baloney of Garyville in St. John the Baptist Parish, who had polled 18 percent.

With her endorsement in his back pocket, Landry, a former U.S. Representative, easily won the November runoff over Caldwell (who can forget Caldwell’s concession speech?). Soon thereafter, Baloney’s daughter, Quendi Baloney, was given a $53,000-a-year job by Landry.

At the time of her hire, all would-be employees of the AG’s office were required to sign a form agreeing to background checks and were also asked, in writing, if they had any criminal record.

In her case, she did. In 1999, she was charged with 11 felony counts of credit card fraud and theft, eventually pleading guilty to three counts, according to court records from Henrico County, Virginia. She was sentenced to six years in prison, all of it suspended.

Her new job? Well, it’s in the AG’s fraud section. More irony.

But in the end, her background is of less interest, given that her conviction was 17 years ago, than the fact that she was given her job as apparent payback for her mom’s endorsement of Landry following the first primary election in October.

A spokesperson for the AG’s office, Russell wrote, did not respond to questions about whether other candidates had applied for Quendi Baloney’s job or whether Landry had hired any other convicted felons.

For her part, Quendi Baloney told The Advocate that her arrest and conviction were “devastating,” but had made her a “stronger, harder-working ethical adult…”

She forwarded to The Advocate a link to the state’s new “Ban the Box” law which prevents state agencies from asking applicants about their criminal records. That law, however, did not take effect until after she was hired.

It’s going to be more than a little interesting to see how Landry’s investigation of Matassa and Berthelot unfolds in light of the same day’s revelations about his own actions.

But we’re willing to wager that when the dust settles on the issues of Matassa, Berthelot, Nichols, Ackal (the state ethics complaint, not the federal indictment) and Baloney, we’ll still be able to say:

Nothing gets done.

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In his message in the Louisiana State Board of Dentistry’s Winter 2010 Bulletin, retiring board President Barry Ogden said in the third paragraph from the bottom of page 4 of the bulletin: “Every time a licensee gets sanctioned they always explain it as the board was on a witch hunt… or they are power hungry…. This is all bogus, and I ask you whether your would sign a consent decree if you thought we were wrong? I don’t think so.”

http://www.lsbd.org/Bulletins/Bulletin2010.pdf

It’s pretty obvious why: The board holds the life or death power over dentists’ livelihoods. They can, on a whim, render years of costly education useless, destroying careers in the process.

LouisianaVoice has shown in previous posts how the Louisiana State Board of Dentistry has run roughshod over dentists. We have revealed board actions ranging from levying draconian fines for minor board rules infractions to initiating devastating reprisals against whistleblowers and those who otherwise resist its strong-arm tactics.

But in examining the case of Slidell dentist Dr. Kenneth O. Starling, it becomes even more evident that the Dentistry Board for decades has operated a white collar extortion scheme that rivals any protections racket run by mobsters in New York, New Jersey or elsewhere.

Strong accusation? Indeed. But what’s more, the board has been allowed to do this at will, unabated and unrestrained by those who appoint the board members. And that would be whoever happens to occupy the governor’s office.

Due process? Fugetaboutit. Innocent until proven guilty? Not even an option. Burden of proof? Don’t want it, don’t need it, can’t use it.

To be sure, some of Dr. Starling’s troubles were of his own making. He had a drinking problem that first placed him in the board’s crosshairs. He freely admits that and has never made an issue of it.

But then, as it often does, the board smelled not alcohol, but blood.

And, like any other rapacious animal, sensing weakness on the part of its prey, it moved in for the kill.

In early 2010, he was called before the board for his “habitual indulgence of the use of drugs, narcotics, and intoxicating liquors” in violation of state statutes and for failing to notify the board of three driving while intoxicated convictions.

The statute was a catch-all one and while it could be interpreted that he was simultaneously abusing narcotics and/or other drugs, he insists he was not. The term “habitual indulgence,” however, seemed accurate enough in light of three DWIs. “I did abuse alcohol and I did receive three DWIs,” he said in a recent interview with LouisianaVoice. “I own them and I acknowledge that fact.”

On March 5, 2010, Starling signed a consent decree in which he agreed to “reimburse the board costs” of $350 and to pay a fine of $8,000 to the board. In addition, a five-year suspension of his dental license was stayed (waived) in favor of a five-year probationary period provided he satisfactorily completed an approved rehabilitation program.

A third major stipulation of the consent decree was that Starling would surrender “all controlled dangerous substance prescribing privileges.” That meant just what it said: he could not prescribe medications during the five years he was on probation.

So, with the consent decree signed, his $8,000 fine paid, and his DEA card (his only authority to issue prescriptions) cancelled for five years, he shuttled off to his new residence for six months at the Palmetto Addiction Recovery Center 200 miles away in Rayville in Richland Parish in Northeast Louisiana. http://www.palmettocenter.com/

And that’s when his real problems began.

During his exile in Palmetto, three other dentists rotated with each other to fill in for Starling. The three on occasion prescribed pain medication like Vicodin and Lortab to patients.

Those were perfectly legal because it was they, not Starling, who issued the prescriptions.

Except because they were written on prescription pads from his dentist office, the pharmacies filling the prescriptions, instead of looking at the signature on the prescriptions, looked at the letterhead on the pads and entered Starling’s name as the prescribing dentist. That information was entered into a data bank used by pharmacists as a deterrent to doctor shopping by those addicted to pain killers.

And that’s where Camp Morrison entered the picture and things got unbelievably complicated for Starling at the hands of a Board of Dentistry that had already long been drunk on power.

Morrison was a private investigator who was issued eight contracts by the Board of Dentistry totaling more than $1.46 million. Even more puzzling was how Morrison, a private contractor, warranted free office space in the board’s suite of offices on the 26th floor of One Canal Place in New Orleans—for which the board pays $4,700 in monthly rent.

Beginning with a $45,000 contract in 1997, all but one of his contracts were of three-year durations. His final contract, for $110,000, was for only 10 months, from September 1, 2012 through June 30, 2013. https://wwwcfprd.doa.louisiana.gov/latrac/contracts/expiredSearchResults.cfm?view=A

Out of the blue and based on an “investigation” by Morrison, Starling was accused by the board of dispensing prescription narcotics against the terms of his probation.

Starling said it would have been impossible for him to issue prescriptions with no DEA identification card, so he said he asked Morrison how he got his information. “He said, ‘I had a hunch and I looked it up,’” he quoted Morrison as replying.

The only problem with that is that Morrison, who has no DEA credentials, had no legal authority to access the data bank. “He had to have accessed the information by obtaining someone’s DEA card,” Starling said. “That’s a flagrant violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a federal offense. He also ran me through the DEA data base and the FBI data base.

“He had a hunch and he looked up information that was not only illegal, but inaccurate as well,” he said. “I have never had any prescription drug issues.”

In Massachusetts, a doctor named Bharani Padmanabhan has filed a lawsuit against the Massachusetts Attorney General in federal court for “illegally trawling through the state prescription drug monitoring program.”

http://maurabrokecfaa.com/

DOWNLOAD CASE # 1:15-CV-13297-NMG

Besides the prescriptions written by the three substitute dentists—verified in at least one case by a March 18, 2010, letter from a Walgreens pharmacist—six of the 10 prescriptions Morrison accused Starling of writing illegally were actually written prior to Starling’s surrender of his DEA card at the end of October 2009.

So it turns out that six prescriptions were written legally while Starling still held his DEA card and the remaining four in question were written by substitute dentists working to keep his office open while he was in rehab.

Starling, of course, did what anyone in his position would do. He fired off a letter to Morrison. “Since my voluntary surrender of my DEA license, I have neither written, nor authorized to be written, nor called in, any prescriptions for controlled substances,” he wrote.

Besides including a copy of the letter from the Walgreens pharmacist, he named the substitute dentists who wrote prescriptions for each of the patients cited by.

“I was under the understanding that without a DEA license, no prescriptions could be filled under my old DEA number,” he wrote.

And here’s where things really got dicey.

On Nov. 5, 2013, the Board of Dentistry sent Starling a letter inviting him to a December 6 conference of the board’s Disciplinary Committee “relative to your request for reconsideration of adverse sanctions.”

Those sanctions proposed an additional fine of $20,000, plus $850 in costs to cover Morrison’s error-laden “investigation.” Among the erroneous allegations was the claim that Starling wrote a prescription for 300 tablets of Hydrocodone when in reality, it was for a much weaker dosage of 300 mls. (about 60 teaspoons) of the medication in liquid form.

That Dec. 6 conference was attended by committee Chairman Blackwood, Drs. David Melancon and Wilton Guillory, Jr., and independent counsel Arthur Hickham, Jr.

The minutes of that meeting read, in part:

“The Disciplinary Committee of the Louisiana State Board of Dentistry finds that the application for reconsideration of an adverse sanctions filed by Dr. Kenneth Starling does have substantial merit. (Emphasis added.)

In a separate letter to the Board of Dentistry, Starling enclosed copies of patient records that showed signatures of substitute dentists on the dates on which Morrison accused him of writing the prescriptions. “I did not see any patients during the dates I was incarcerated in St. Tammany (Parish) or in treatment at Palmetto treatment center and no prescriptions were written by me during this time.

“I ask that the Board take all of this into consideration and I humbly ask for a reconsideration of sanctions imposed in relation to the second consent decree.”

And it was that last sentence, however, that spelled doom for Starling at that Dec. 6 committee meeting. A “reconsideration of sanctions” would necessarily mean a rescission of the $20,000 fine and the $850 in costs.

And the board was having none of that.

With the Dentistry Board, money trumps justice. Every time.

The very next day, on Dec. 7, the full board met and besides approving pay raises and per diem payments and other expenses to themselves, and despite the Disciplinary Committee’s decision that Starling’s application had “substantial merit,” voted unanimously to deny Starling’s application for reconsideration.

Starling was called in and Blackwood pushed the newest consent decree toward him and instructed him to sign it.

So, even though the Disciplinary Committee recommended consideration of Starling’s application, the full board not only denied the application on the following day, but also had the consent decree already drawn up, obviously in advance of the board’s decision.

It was a kangaroo court and the fix was in.

The consent decree not only called for him to pay $20,850 in fines and costs, but to again surrender his DEA card, attend AA meetings, enter into group therapy, undergo addiction counseling, re-enter Palmetto, and to agree to five years’ probation.

Starling balked and Blackwood, he said, spat “Sign the G—d—m consent decree.”

Realizing that Blackw00d and the board held all the cards, Starling signed.

Justice, or more accurately, the board’s idea of justice, was served and the Starling’s bank account was $20,850 lighter.

And the citizens of Louisiana were safer, thanks to the diligence—and greed—of the State Board of Dentistry.

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