For years, many chiropractors and professional organizations in California have been in open warfare with staff at the California Board of Chiropractic Examiners. After a chaotic March 1 board meeting that saw accusations of stolen tapes and police intervention, the conflict spilled into the media and the state Legislature.
Political battle lines now have been drawn. On one side are several current and former members of the board staff and a pair of Democratic legislators who are looking into what they say are several questionable activities by the board.
Senator Mark Ridley-Thomas, D-Los Angeles, has been leading an inquiry into the board in his role as chairman of the Senate Business and Professions Committee. Both he and his counterpart in the Assembly, Mike Eng, D-Monterey Park, have called for the resignation of three current board members and put forth legislation to reign in the board and place it under the Department of Consumer Affairs.
On the other side are the six current board members, all appointed by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as numerous chiropractors, chiropractic attorneys, former board staff and the major chiropractic trade organizations. This group is lead by two board members who are longtime friends of Schwarzenegger: Richard Tyler and Franco Columbu. They have moved aggressively against board staff they believed to have conflicts of interests. Meanwhile, a chiropractic attorney has filed an FPPC complaint against one part-time board staffer.
Ridley-Thomas aggressively questions board on MUA
On Monday, Ridley-Thomas had the board back for a Business and Professions hearing in order to answer questions about a controversial procedure called manipulation under anesthesia, or MUA. MUA is a technique in which chiropractors perform manipulations that would be too painful if the patient was fully awake. They are performed by a small minority of chiropractors generally working with seriously injured patients.
The board and chiropractic organizations hold that MUA has long been an approved procedure under the chiropractic scope of practice in California.
However, board staff have increasingly questioned this position in recent years, bringing them into odds with the current board members. There have also been allegations that board members interfered in two criminal cases against chiropractors in San Joaquin County who have been charged with, among other things, performing MUA. For instance, the case against chiropractors Joseph Ambrose and Michael Yates leads with a felony charge for “uncertified practice of medicine” for participating “in procedures not approved for chiropractors.”
At a March 28 committee hearing, Ridley-Thomas called on the board to re-evaluate their position on MUA. This advice was reaffirmed by LaVonne Powell, a Department of Consumer Affairs attorney acting as temporary legal counsel to the board. At its April 19 board meeting, the board reaffirmed its previous position that MUA was an approved procedure.
FPPC complaint against Craw
On April 30, Laguna Niguel chiropractic attorney Roger Calton filed a FPPC complaint alleging conflict of interests and other misconduct by two employees of the state Board of Chiropractic Examiners. Calton claims that Dr. Maggie Craw, chiropractic consultant to the board, reviewed her own work while working part time for the Board and also consulting to the State Compensation Insurance Fund.
He also alleged that she sends Chiropractic Board case-review work to another chiropractor, Jennifer Martin, with whom she had a close relationship. In a November 2, 2005, deposition on a court case in El Dorado County Superior Court, Craw denied she ever socialized or went out to dinner with Martin. However, a February 1999 grant-deed transfer filed in Sacramento County shows that Craw added Martin to the deed of her East Sacramento house, a “gift” that resulted in them being “co-tenants.”
“If the Fair Political Practices Commission does investigate this complaint, we will certainly cooperate,” said Brian Stiger, and Department of Consumer Affairs manager who is currently acting executive director for the board.
Calton charges that in May 2004, “Dr. Craw reviewed and denied a claim for workers compensation benefits on behalf of SCIF.” Martin then filed a compliant against the chiropractor in question, Dr. Thomas Zorich, which Craw reviewed as a consultant to the board. Her complaint named two SCIF patients of Zorich’s, neither of whom even complained about him or authorized the release of their medical records to the Chiropractic Board, the letter alleges.
This decision was then submitted for further review to the Chiropractic Board, where Craw reviewed it again, signing off on her own work in a different capacity, Calton claims. In January of this year, then-executive director Catherine Hayes filed an official disciplinary action against Zorich, alleging “excessive treatment.”
“Dr. Zorich felt that there was a severe conflict of interests with Dr. Craw representing SCIF, determining whether the insurance company should pay claims, and then evaluating complaints relating to those same claims on behalf of the Board,” the letter states.
On May 24, 2004, Zorich sent a letter to the board alleging conflicts of interest by Craw. On June 9, 2004, Kim Smith, then the board’s executive director, replied “Dr. Craw is a half-time employee of the board, and pursues her own endeavors on her own time.”
Craw herself sought an opinion from the FPPC on the matter last year. In a reply, the FPPC stated, “There is nothing in the [Political Reform] Act that prohibits you from holding two public positions concurrently.” It goes on to state that “under the conflict-of-interest provisions of the Act