In bid to win back his medical license, former Swedish surgeon Johnny Delashaw says doctors fed stories to The Seattle Times to discredit him, but the document his lawyers call the “smoking gun” was made up, say two doctors and a forensic analyst.
Johnny B. Delashaw Jr., former head of the Swedish Neuroscience Institute, says he received a batch of records anonymously that show other doctors conspired with each other and with The Seattle Times to oust him, according to records in a state medical hearing. But the document Delashaw’s lawyers call “the smoking gun,” a purported email exchange between two doctors, was fabricated, according to the two doctors and a forensic analyst hired by one of them.
Delashaw has cited these records in his bid to appeal the state’s suspension of his medical license. A hearing officer in December granted Delashaw’s request to postpone the hearing until April to allow attorneys to determine the authenticity of the documents and seek additional evidence, according to a Department of Health spokesman and pleadings in the case.
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The documents cited by Delashaw comprise 121 pages of what appear to be printouts of electronic correspondence, and include an alleged email exchange between two physicians in which one of them claims to have provided information to the Times.
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“Mike Baker is an idiot he is believing everything I say,” according to the alleged exchange, an apparent reference to a Times reporter who co-authored a series of investigative articles on Swedish and Delashaw. “He is so naive he believes my quantity over quality story, double booking, and I have dug up tons of crap on JD.”
In a motion in the case, Delashaw’s lawyers refer to the email exchange as “the proverbial smoking gun.”
The document, dated Nov. 6, 2016, goes on to describe three articles published by The Times three and six months later — in February and May of 2017 — including stories about a patient death, the rising volume of brain and spine procedures at Swedish, and a practice of running multiple surgeries at the same time. It includes the term “OR Factory,” used in the headline of a Feb. 10, 2017 article.
The printout of the email is signed “MM” and lists as the sender an email address for the wife of Marc Mayberg, a former Swedish physician.
The “To:” line is missing on the email but in the “CC:” line is an email address for Charles Cobbs, a neurosurgeon at Swedish. Both Cobbs and Mayberg are witnesses in Delashaw’s license proceeding before the state Medical Quality Assurance Commission.
An attorney for Mayberg called the email attributed to his client “a forgery. The contents of the email are fabrications.”
“I never received any such email,” Cobbs wrote in a sworn declaration. “The statements allegedly made in this email are inconsistent with anything that I have ever discussed with” Mayberg.
Lawyers for Cobbs also hired a firm to conduct a forensic review of Cobbs’ email account, which found no copies of the alleged email and determined it had been altered before and after it was printed.
Michele Matassa Flores, The Times’ managing editor, said the alleged exchange between Cobbs and Mayberg appeared to be a fabrication. “It makes references to things that couldn’t have been known at the time the email was supposedly written,” she said, pointing out that the newspaper didn’t conceive of the headline “OR Factory” or decide to report an article focusing on double-booking surgeries until months later.
Cobbs’ lawyers on Friday provided The Times with the records Delashaw received anonymously and other pleadings in the case after they were contacted by another news organization about them.
“Any suggestion that Dr. Cobbs was involved in any scheme to make up information or mislead The Seattle Times is false and defamatory,” Malaika Eaton, an attorney representing Cobbs, said in a statement. “It was only fair to provide appropriate information to The Seattle Times,” she said, because “the fake email suggests, falsely, that the Times’ reporting was somehow manipulated.”
Swedish has made major changes since The Times investigation exposed internal concerns about patient care at Swedish’s Cherry Hill campus. The organization’s chief executive resigned, as did Delashaw. Swedish has changed surgical procedures to largely ban the practice of overlapping surgeries.
In legal pleadings, Delashaw says he received an anonymous FedEx package on Dec. 20, 2017, at his home in Arizona containing the documents. The label indicated it was sent by someone at the Swedish Neuroscience Institute, but Delashaw couldn’t vouch for the accuracy of the documents, the filing states.
The records, Delashaw’s lawyers argue in a motion, demonstrate a plan by rival physicians of “fabricating complaints against Dr. Delashaw, and enlisting friendly nurses and a physician to provide protected health information to the media.”
Amy Magnano, an attorney representing Delashaw, said Friday she and her client want to “determine whether the document is authentic through a forensic analysis, and also to determine why copies of the many documents contained in the package were not produced” by witnesses in the proceeding. She added that neither Cobbs nor Mayberg had disputed the authenticity of the remainder of the 121 pages.
Eaton, who represents Cobbs, said that any failure to produce responsive documents was “an inadvertent mistake,” and that he was working to fulfill his obligations as a witness in the case.
Attorneys for the Department of Health said that apart from the alleged exchange that Mayberg and Cobbs deny, the remainder of the 121 pages “is similar to information previously known and merely corroborates it.”
Washington state regulators suspended Delashaw’s medical license last May, citing “an immediate threat to the public health and safety,” according to state records.
Among the allegations, Delashaw allegedly created a chilling effect by yelling and cursing at subordinates, who became afraid to ask questions necessary for proper patient care, the records show.
Magnano said at a hearing last year that nurses were “acting as advocates” against Delashaw when they made complaints about him.