Fault Lines
29 April 2017

Dr. Courtney Morgan Sues Texas’ Masters Of The Universe

January 26, 2017 (Fault Lines) — The case involving Dr. Courtney Morgan, the DEA, and Texas Medical Board Investigators has a “happy ending” for Dr. Morgan, but it may still be filed under the “which office do I go to get my reputation back” bin. Another old, but still tried and true, law enforcement maxim that would apply to this case is “you can beat the rap, but you can’t beat the ride.”

The case began with a fake news article Victoria’s Advocate report that was published weeks  before three medical board investigators and two DEA agents raided Dr. Morgan’s “Drive Thru Doc” and “Hop Medical Services” clinics without a warrant. Yes, with a name like “Drive Thru Doc,” the doctor wasn’t helping himself, but that’s irrelevant for purposes of his prosecution.

Texas Medical Board Director Mary Chapman led the way and used the Board’s subpoena power to get around that pesky warrant requirement that’s in the U.S. and Texas Constitutions, and enlisted the help of law enforcement. As reported by the Courthouse News Service, Chapman and her goons did not wear kid gloves when they showed up at the clinic, but rather exercised their authoritah to its full extent:

Morgan says in the lawsuit that Kopacz, Chapman and Drug Enforcement Administration agents went to his two health clinics in Victoria on the morning of July 18, 2013, scared away his patients, seized his staff’s cellphones and threatened to arrest his secretary, who began sobbing and hyperventilating, before she signed a false witness statement that was partially dictated to her by lead medical board investigator Chapman.

Morgan says Chapman held him in an exam room for more than 40 minutes while her team seized documents from his clinic and repeatedly told him: “We’re the medical board, we can do whatever we want.”

The day before the raids, Chapman called Kopacz and enlisted him to join her in serving Morgan’s clinics with “administrative instanter subpoenas,” which the Texas Medical Board can use to compel the immediate production of records, according to the complaint. (Emphasis added.)

The lawsuit is what Dr. Morgan filed against Chapman and Texas Department of Safety State Trooper John Kopacz, for malicious prosecution. The way was cleared for a malicious prosecution claim when Victoria County District Judge Eli E. Garza found that the Department had acted in bad faith when granting Morgan’s motion to suppress the seized medical and office records, and the charges were dismissed against the latest ham sandwich Dr. Morgan.

While reading the phrase, “we’re the medical board, we can do whatever we want,” I felt a mouse stirring in the attic of my memory. I began to recall a case I had years ago before the Florida Board of Medicine. My client was a doctor from Puerto Rico who had pleaded out a case in Florida state court and had avoided the can, but now the Florida Department of Health was going after his license.

Once the department filed an administrative complaint, the case was referred to an administrative law judge.  After both sides did their discovery dance, the judge conducted a trial on the merits. The department was going for the jugular, permanent revocation, and they had a large paper trail coupled with a parade of snitches, so realistically the doctor was hoping for a temporary suspension or a public reprimand.

After duking it out for days in front of the ALJ, the doctor got his “victory”: two years suspension, plus a fine. The doctor was truly relieved, but drained in every way: emotionally, physically (he was very fat, but had lost about 80 lbs since the case began), and financially. Days later, the grumpy septuagenarian lawyer from the department told me over the phone, “Meh, it doesn’t matter. We’ll get his license revoked before the board.”

In Florida, the department of health can ask the board of medicine to review the ALJ’s findings and to increase the sentence penalty.* And that’s what they did, so it was on to the masters of the universe Florida Board of Medicine, where months later the doctor and I appeared before a panel convened at a Hyatt Regency, two hours north of Miami.

The board made us wait for three hours while they heard other matters, so in my naiveté I decided I was going to ask – no, politely demand — that the doctor’s case be moved up in the queue, because I had other cases later that day. Hell, the omnipotent robed ones graciously grant those requests most of the time, so no biggie, right?  In her reply, one panel member almost laughed and gave me a blunt “no.” The panel then said they were going to take five minutes before having a working lunch.

During my break, I spoke to my mom on the phone and told her about them denying my request. She laughed and said, “Mario, don’t you get it? They’re the masters of the universe. Of course they said no.” When it finally came time for the doctor’s turn, what happened next was surreal and looked like what happened to Sam Rothstein before the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

With the ALJ’s order, transcript of proceedings, and exhibits in hand, I made the case in favor of leaving the ALJ’s decision alone, and gave them all they needed to rule that an increase in penalty was unwarranted. After the department’s lawyer made a lame, boilerplate argument for revocation, the panel immediately granted its motion to increase penalty and permanently revoked the doctor’s license.

Actually, this was worse than that scene from Casino, because in the movie they weren’t in between bites of cold cuts when they made their decision. This was swift, and disgusting. By comparison, that day another doctor survived revocation, even though a patient had died because of his negligence and the doctor had the gall to go to the deceased’s funeral (as was noted by the Board).

Only one panel member, an elderly doctor with an Indian accent, voted against revocation, pointing out that the ALJ had handled this case for months and that the ALJ was in the best position to judge the doctor. He reminded me of the foreigners in their 50s whom I would see sleeping on the floor next to their study cubicles, when as a kid I would visit my dad at a Kaplan test prep center.

The panel took about 15 seconds to make its decision, after the doctor had fought valiantly for almost a year and gotten a partial victory before a judge. Once we left, all the Latino machismo in the world couldn’t prevent the doctor from sobbing like a child in front of me at the parking lot. It was surreal, and it was cynicism galore.

The picture of that young, self-righteous panel member doling out that revocation sentence in between sandwich bites always brings out my lizard brain, in spades. But it also drives me to keep fighting no matter what, because that’s part of the gig, and there’s no choice available to do otherwise.

*The complaint and the minutes are just samples, and not related to the doctor’s case in any way.

4 Comments on this post.

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  • Zulay Machado
    26 January 2017 at 10:28 am - Reply

    My dear son, I remembered that case, how can I forgot it!
    Good article, as always! So proud of you!

    • Mario Alfredo Machado
      26 January 2017 at 11:26 am - Reply

      Thanks mom! Love you too!

      • shg
        26 January 2017 at 11:37 am - Reply

        I’m kvelling.

  • Richard Fedder
    26 January 2017 at 12:00 pm - Reply

    I have a doctor client with a story just as bad if not worse. He was suspended in 2007 for being a convicted felon. Only problem is: He was never convicted of a felony. To this day, he hasn’t gotten his license back. He went to law school, but after he graduated, he could not pass character and fitness because. . . he is a convicted felon. Well not exactly, its because he has to resolve his problems with the Medical Board first. Mind you, there can be no confusion. The doctor was charged with a felony. But the felony charge was dismissed with prejudice. The Medical Board has the final judgment (it’s from a different state) dismissing the case with prejudice. But the Board doesn’t care. As you say: Masters of the Universe.

    Of course, there are many more complications and issues after all these years. But the basic fact remains the same – Not a convicted felon.

    The hopeful news is that we just partially won an appeal in the Fourth Circuit. The case has been reinstated, subject to his completing an appeal in state court first. This will go on for quite a while longer, I’m afraid.