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A Washington State appeals court last week ruled that a retired doctor facing disciplinary action from the Washington Medical Commission (WMC) for questioning official COVID-19 narratives can proceed with his appeal against the commission.
The ruling also keeps in place an injunction against the WMC, preventing it from proceeding with disciplinary proceedings.
Attorney Richard Jaffe hailed the ruling as “very good news for all who believe that doctors should be able to publicly criticize” COVID-19 “propaganda.”
Dr. Richard Eggleston, a retired ophthalmologist in Clarkston, Washington, in 2021, published a series of articles in the Lewiston Morning Tribune questioning the official narrative and medical advice related to COVID-19, including the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines.
In August 2022, the WMC charged Eggleston with unprofessional conduct, misrepresentation or fraud in any aspect of the conduct of the business or profession, and interference with an investigation or disciplinary proceeding by “willful misrepresentation of facts.”
Eggleston responded to the charges with a motion to dismiss, claiming the charges violated his First Amendment right to free speech. When the commission denied the motion, Eggleston sued the WMC.
The Washington State Superior Court ruled against Eggleston’s request for an injunction. However, following an appeal, the Court of Appeals of the State of Washington in May granted Eggleston an emergency injunction, delaying court hearings scheduled to begin that month.
Last week’s ruling by Court of Appeals Commissioner Hailey L. Landrus granted Eggleston’s motion for discretionary review of the Superior Court’s ruling.
Jaffe, one of the lawyers representing Eggleston, wrote on his blog that the ruling means the injunction issued in May “will be continued (most likely for a long, long time).”
Todd Richardson, another attorney representing Eggleston, told The Defender he was “very gratified to receive this ruling [and] really relieved as well.” He said the ruling “means the medical commission cannot proceed with their disciplinary hearing to sanction Dr. Eggleston.”
Jaffe told The Defender the ruling stops the WMC “from prosecuting Dr. Eggleston for speaking out in public against the mainstream COVID narrative until the appellate court determines whether this prosecution violates his free speech rights, but really, the free speech rights of all Washington licensed physicians.”
Richardson said he will now proceed with appealing the WMC proceedings.
On his blog, Jaffe clarified that “We have not won the appeal, only the right to present our appeal to the appellate court, which together with the stay of the Medical Commission’s prosecution … is a pretty good result to my way of thinking.”
Jaffe added that while the WMC “can move to modify (appeal) Commissioner Landrus’ decision … the decision is very well reasoned and reached the right result. So, we have every expectation that it will be upheld and the appeal will go forward.”
Eggleston accused of making ‘false statements’
The WMC relied on a series of articles Eggleston published in 2021, for his ongoing column in the Lewiston Tribune, including:
- “Ivermectin is becoming the standard of care” (Sept. 5, 2021).
- “COVID-19 is a deception for taking control” (July 11, 2021).
- “Powers that be suppress the truth about COVID-19” (June 13, 2021).
- “When it comes to COVID-19, dare to be a free thinker” (March 17, 2021).
The WMC used the articles to accuse Eggleston of “unprofessional conduct” and “false statements” he made in the newspaper “regarding medical issues and promulgated misinformation regarding the SARS-CoV-2 virus and treatments for the virus.”
“Apparently a reader (not a patient, because the Doc retired 10 years ago) took offense and complained,” Jaffe wrote. “And the [WMC] decided that it had the sacred duty to protect the Washington public from such heresy.”
This formed the basis of Eggleston’s First Amendment claims. However, as Jaffe wrote, “Washington law flat-out says that neither the administrative law judge nor the Commission members hearing the case can make constitutional rulings. The procedure was that the issue is preserved until after the Commission finds the doc guilty.”
Eggleston and Jaffe challenged this law. “Statutes have to comply with the Constitution, not the other way around,” Jaffe wrote. Noting that this line of argument was accepted by the appellate court, he said it was the “first time I’ve seen this in my not too few years in the field.”
Jaffe said that many lawyers have filed lawsuits attempting to stop board hearings, “to my knowledge, this is the first time it has succeeded.”
California vaccine rights attorney Greg Glaser, general counsel for Physicians for Informed Consent, told The Defender last week’s ruling in the Eggleston case “is an important win for doctors’ free speech and a clear loss for COVID bullies who attempted to censor a doctor’s newspaper articles.”
Kim Mack Rosenberg, acting general counsel for Children’s Health Defense (CHD), said that while overt COVID-19 restrictions such as lockdowns and social distancing were obvious to most, what was less visible was an “information lockdown” affecting the information reaching the general public.
Rosenberg told The Defender:
“Less obvious to many who trusted that the government would respect free speech rights and the media would be fair in reporting information is that we have also been on an information lockdown that has had devastating effects in keeping valuable — and in some instances potentially life-saving — information from the American public.”
Rosenberg said Eggleston’s case “exposes that among those silenced were medical professionals and that those professionals not only were silenced but prosecuted by their licensing boards. As more and more information comes to light, the widespread implications of these wrongful policies become increasingly apparent.”
‘The stakes in this appeal could not be higher’
The legal experts who spoke with The Defender said Eggleston’s case is significant because of the likely effect it will have on other court cases and medical board actions involving medical speech in Washington and nationwide.
“The stakes in this appeal could not be higher,” Jaffe said. “There are 60 other WMC investigations and prosecutions involving public so-called ‘COVID misinformation.’ As this Eggleston appeal goes, so goes the fate of every other Commission case for COVID misinformation.”
According to Jaffe, if the WMC fails to stop the order granting Eggleston’s right to appeal, the commission will “have to think long and hard about whether they want to risk an adverse decision for reasons beyond their injured ego of not being able to have its way with Doc Eggleston and other doctors.”
“If the Court goes our way on the appeal, there will be at least one team of lawyers who are going to try to stop and/or reverse every single one of those cases,” he added.
The actions can be traced to a July 2021 press release by the Federation of State Medical Boards that urged state boards to discipline doctors who spread “misinformation” or “disinformation.”
The press release stated:
“Physicians who generate and spread COVID-19 vaccine misinformation or disinformation are risking disciplinary action by state medical boards, including the suspension or revocation of their medical license. Due to their specialized knowledge and training, licensed physicians possess a high degree of public trust and therefore have a powerful platform in society, whether they recognize it or not.
“They also have an ethical and professional responsibility to practice medicine in the best interests of their patients and must share information that is factual, scientifically grounded and consensus-driven for the betterment of public health.
“Spreading inaccurate COVID-19 vaccine information contradicts that responsibility, threatens to further erode public trust in the medical profession and puts all patients at risk.”
In late 2021, the head of another influential national medical organization also called on state medical boards to undertake similar actions.
Dr. Richard Baron, president and CEO of the American Board of Internal Medicine, publicly pushed for doctors who spread “misinformation” about COVID-19 and the vaccines to lose their license and certification. Baron said at the time that “putting out flagrant misinformation is unethical and dangerous during a pandemic.”
A recent investigation by journalist Paul D. Thacker revealed that Baron is a client of Weber Shandwick, a public relations firm whose clients also include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna.
The firm also organized conference panels on “medical misinformation,” in which Baron participated.
Weber Shandwick, the world’s second-largest PR firm, has branded its team as “misinformation and disinformation” experts and says it provides clients with services to help manage any perceived threats posed by spreaders of such information.
Courts ‘no longer enforcing a lock-step narrative’
Legal experts told The Defender last week’s ruling in the Eggleston case is the latest in which courts have sided with constitutional free speech protections.
Ray Flores, CHD senior counsel, told The Defender, “The courts, for whatever reason, are no longer enforcing a lock-step narrative and appear to be interested in restoring constitutionally protected speech post-COVID. The ruling is one more affirmation that the hypno-hysteria is over.”
Along similar lines, Glaser told The Defender, “The court’s order is also a testament to the growing respect for free speech in the eyes of the courts generally,” adding that it is “refreshing to see First Amendment wins like the Eggleston order … because it proves the First Amendment is emboldening good judges to stand up for individual rights.”
“The decision, so far, is narrow, but important for those seeking to protect their constitutional rights. We must be careful and still celebrate the win. If we fail to stay the course or fail to remain steadfast in our defense of the constitution, this brief moment could become nothing more than a Pyrrhic victory.”
Rosenberg said the ruling was a victory not just for Eggleston, but for all Americans.
“Americans have suffered, many unknowingly, from these actions. It is time for the wrongdoers to be called out,” she said.
“Every time freedom is protected, every time freedom is given breath, hope spreads,” Richardson said. “The forces of control and compliance have trammeled doctor’s rights to speak for too long. This gives freedom a breath and hope more light. The fight is not over; but like those in the old hymn, we are all enlisted ‘till the conflict is o’er. Happy are we!”