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Board chief is fired after accusations

Director of chiropractic panel appointed by the governor says members attempted to subvert a prosecution and interfere with discipline.

March 24, 2007|Peter Nicholas | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Shortly before she was fired from her job Friday, the executive director of a state board appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger accused its members of attempting to undermine a criminal prosecution of chiropractors and interfering with disciplinary actions against members of the profession.

Catherine Hayes told the California Board of Chiropractic Examiners, which includes two friends from the governor's bodybuilding days, that it has been acting illegally and has deprived Californians of a strong regulatory agency that is supposed to protect the public.

Hayes read her statement to board members, who then went into a closed session to discuss her employment status. They came out to say that Hayes had been fired. She earlier had received indications that the board was unhappy with her and intended to dismiss her.

The board's chairman is Richard H. Tyler, who was the governor's personal chiropractor at one time and who met Schwarzenegger at the airport when he arrived in the U.S. in 1968.

Another board member is Francesco Columbu, a chiropractor and two-time Mr. Olympia who was best man at the governor's wedding to Maria Shriver.

Hayes, a 10-year-veteran of the board staff, suggested in her statement that members are protecting the interests of chiropractors at the public's expense.

She cited a vote by the board at its March 1 meeting that endorsed a potentially lucrative chiropractic procedure in which patients' joints are adjusted while they are under anesthesia.

The motion approved by the board was written by an attorney representing a chiropractor trade group.

Prosecutors in San Joaquin County are pursuing several criminal cases against chiropractors, alleging insurance fraud involving the use of the procedure, called "manipulation under anesthesia."

Hayes was subpoenaed by the prosecution to testify in the matter -- an action, she said, that exposed her to criticism from the profession. "You attempted to subvert a criminal prosecution in San Joaquin County of several chiropractors performing manipulation under anesthesia," she told the board.

After she testified in those cases, she said, "I was attacked by members of the profession and exposed to constant intimidation during public meetings. You did not support and protect me from that harassment."

A former attorney for the board, Jana Tuton, wrote a memo to Hayes in February that made a similar point that the board was acting improperly by approving the procedure amid an ongoing criminal case. Tuton wrote that "promoters" of the procedure have "convinced" board members that if they pass that resolution, the chiropractors under investigation would be exonerated.

Tuton, who was reassigned this week, described the board's actions in her memo as an "abuse of power."

"The prevailing problem with the board can be summarized in one word: lawless," Tuton wrote.

In her statement Friday, Hayes also said she was illegally ordered by the board to fire Maggie Craw, a state employee who reviewed complaints about individual chiropractors.

Craw was not popular among chiropractors. At one board meeting, several chiropractors complained about her actions. Hayes' attorney said it is his understanding that she had no legal grounds to fire Craw -- and so she didn't.

"Your demand that she be fired by me was illegal and improper," Hayes said.

Board members first tried to dismiss Hayes at the meeting on March 1. But they failed to give her the advance notice required under state law. Indeed, Hayes said she had no idea she was about to be fired when she arrived for that meeting.

So, in a belated effort to comply with the state's open meetings law, the board reconvened Friday to make the firing official.

A legislative committee is planning to hold hearings on the board's actions next week. Tyler said he plans to attend.

As the session began, Tyler read a statement conceding the board had made "gross errors in judgment" at the March 1 meeting. "As the newly elected chair it was, and is, my responsibility to ensure that the proper procedure and correct legal protocols are always observed. Regrettably and painfully, I failed to do so," he said.

Still, the governor's office seems committed to keeping Tyler on the board.

An e-mail written Tuesday by a lawyer in the state attorney general's office, which represents the board, refers to a conversation with the governor's legal counsel, Andrea Hoch.

In the e-mail, Hoch is portrayed as eager to reassure Tyler that he has a "team" supporting him.

Hoch, for example, was described as "very happy" to learn that Tyler was pleased with the person who would be replacing Hayes on an interim basis, according to the e-mail, which was obtained by The Times.

peter.nicholas@latimes.com

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