Friday, March 1, 2002
Court of Appeal Upholds Statute on Discipline of Doctors Convicted of Two Alcohol Offenses
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
A statute mandating that doctors be disciplined if convicted of two misdemeanors involving alcohol consumption does not violate state and federal due process guarantees, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
Div. Three denied a writ of mandate to Dr. Cadvan O. Griffiths, a doctor for more than 40 years, who challenged the Medical Board of California’s order revoking his license, staying the revocation, and placing him on three years’ probation.
The board based its order on Business and Professions Code Sec. 2239(a), which provides—among other things—that a physician convicted of two or more alcohol-related misdemeanors is guilty of “unprofessional conduct” for which discipline shall be imposed. The degree of discipline is left up to the board.
In imposing discipline on Griffiths, the board rejected the conclusion of an administrative law judge that the veteran doctor—who was convicted of alcohol-related reckless driving in 1987 and 1990 and of driving with an excessive blood alcohol level in 1992—could not be disciplined in the absence of proof that his ability to practice medicine was impaired by his drinking.
The ALJ relied on testimony by Griffiths’ son, with whom he shared a practice, and other staff members that the doctor never drank at work and had never been under the influence while seeing patients.
The board began proceedings against Griffiths under Sec. 2239(a) in 1994. At the time, he was on five years’ probation as a result of the 1992 conviction, for which he had also received a four-month jail term—with work release—after pleading no contest.
The police alleged in that case that the doctor was stopped while speeding and weaving in and out of traffic. After pulling over, they said, he got out of the car, yelled “Due process: I want due process,” and told the police he was an ACLU lawyer and was being persecuted because he had defended Rodney King.
A breath test showed his blood alcohol level to be at least 0.11 percent.
Griffiths sought review in the Court of Appeal after Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Yaffe denied his petition for writ of administrative mandate.
Justice Patti Kitching, writing for the appellate panel, said the legislative determination that a nexus exists between criminal conduct involving alcohol consumption and fitness to practice medicine is rational and does not violate due process.
The jurist explained:
“Convictions involving alcohol consumption reflect a lack of sound professional and personal judgment that is relevant to a physician’s fitness and competence to practice medicine. Alcohol consumption quickly affects normal driving ability, and driving under the influence of alcohol threatens personal safety and places the safety of the public in jeopardy. It further shows a disregard of medical knowledge concerning the effects of alcohol on vision, reaction time, motor skills, judgment, coordination and memory, and the ability to judge speed, dimensions, and distance.”
Accepting Griffiths’ argument that an alcohol-abusing doctor cannot be disciplined absent proof of harm to patients, Kitching added, would put the public at risk. “[I]t is far more desirable to discipline before a licensee harms any patient than after harm has occurred,” the justice said.
The case is Griffiths v. Superior Court, B143674.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company