OLYMPIA — Attorneys for a former Swedish Medical Center neurosurgeon argued in court Friday that the restrictions on his medical license should be dropped because a state commission admitted too much unrelated evidence about his character into its investigation.
The evidence tainted the probe and violated his due process, the lawyer for Dr. Johnny Delashaw argued. But lawyers representing the Washington Medical Commission maintained the process was fair and the restrictions are “appropriate.”
At the end of the complex, two-hour hearing, Thurston County Superior Court Judge James Dixon said he would make a decision in about 10 days. He said although he has reviewed the approximately 12,000-page case record, he wants to look into it further.
“The court is going to do some more research, devote more thought and analysis to two issues I haven’t quite wrestled to the ground,” he said.
Delashaw is seeking to remove restrictions to his medical license set by the commission when it reinstated his license in July 2018. It had suspended the license in May 2017.
The medical commission suspended Delashaw’s license two months after he resigned as chairman of the Swedish Neuroscience Institute in Seattle following a Seattle Times series in February 2017 that raised questions about patient care under his leadership.
The panel determined he posed an “immediate threat to the public health and safety,” basing its decision largely on accusations of disruptive behavior toward nurses in 2015. His competency as a brain surgeon was not at issue. Delashaw wasn’t practicing at the time. He denied the allegations and appealed the suspension.
The commission placed him under administrative oversight for at least three years and barred Delashaw from holding a position that requires him to supervise other physicians. It doesn’t prevent him from holding an academic position, but many involve overseeing students technically considered physicians.
Delashaw, who has performed thousands of brain surgeries in California and at Oregon Health & Science University, has been unable to find a job as a doctor because of the restrictions.
Amy Magnano, Delashaw’s attorney, told the judge Friday her chief concern was the commission’s use of “other acts evidence.” This is evidence about a person’s character to show that on a particular occasion the person acted in line with that character.
Magnano said a “mountain” of evidence presented wasn’t clearly tied to the allegations related to Delashaw’s disruptive behavior toward nurses.
Tracy Bahm, an assistant state attorney general representing the medical commission, argued the evidence presented in the case did not cause a problem. She said the board members are not like a “lay jury” and are able to set aside irrelevant evidence.
“The idea that somehow evidence came in that poisoned the well is not a valid argument,” she said.
Dixon said he wants to determine if the presiding officer in the commission hearing violated Delashaw’s due process by allowing the “other acts of evidence.” He also will consider whether the commission has authority to bar Delashaw from supervising physicians.
Delashaw’s libel lawsuit against The Seattle Times, former Swedish colleague Dr. Charles Cobbs, and five Washington Medical Quality Assurance Commission members is ongoing.