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Opinion

Update: Board throws out DOH legal fees

On Friday, we reported that a Venice dentist was protesting being forced to pay the "costs" that the Department of Health said it ran up in investigating and prosecuting him.

Alexander Gaukhman, through his attorney Max Price, argued that it was "outrageous" for the dentist to be forced to pay $40,000 in costs for a violation of record-keeping rules that merited only a $2,500 fine.

On Friday afternoon, the Board of Dentistry agreed.  According to several sources including DOH, the board stripped off the legal fees, leaving only the cost of investigation.

DOH sent word this morning that the cost Gaukhman will be expected to pay are now $7,182.36. 

This probably won't be the last time a health professional protests the practice of charging huge legal fees on a case that turns out to be no big deal.

In fairness to DOH, it's not the agency's fault that Gaukhman chose to take the case to the Division of Administrative Hearings, where a fact-finding Administrative Law Judge hears evidence and makes a recommendation. DOH Deputy General Counsel Renee Alsobrook says that the cost of prosecuting a case at DOAH is extremely high for both sides -- about $25,000 in legal fees, expert witness opinions, etc.

But in fairness to doctors, nurses and other health professionals, they shouldn't be expected to roll over and accept a fine or other discipline in a settlement agreement if they feel they've been wrongly accused.

As long as it costs $25,000 or more to get a fair hearing, this problem won't go away.

--Health News Florida is an independent online publication dedicated to public-service journalism. Editor Carol Gentry can be reached at 727-410-3266 or by e-mail.