A Washington state appeals court has granted an emergency injunction to a retired doctor facing disciplinary action from the Washington Medical Commission (WMC) over articles he wrote against the official COVID-19 narrative in 2021.
Dr. Richard J. Eggleston, a retired ophthalmologist in Clarkston, Washington, faces disciplinary action over articles published in the Lewiston Tribune he wrote challenged the prevailing information and guidance regarding the pandemic.
During the pandemic, doctors could be accused of spreading misinformation if they provided advice contrary to the official information. This included, for example, advocating or prescribing treatments such as ivermectin or disagreeing with the effectiveness of face masks and vaccines.
The United States officially ended the pandemic emergency on May 11.
The WMC filed charges against Dr. Eggleston, accusing him of unprofessional conduct, including spreading false information and misinformation about the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its treatments. They assert that his actions violated state laws related to moral turpitude, misrepresentation, and interference with an investigation.
In response to the charges, Dr. Eggleston has maintained his innocence and has argued that his articles are protected under the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech. He sought to have the disciplinary proceedings dismissed on the grounds that the statutes applied by the WMC infringed upon his constitutional rights.
Despite a separate, initial motion to dismiss being previously denied, the recent emergency injunction granted by the appeals court now provides a temporary reprieve for Dr. Eggleston. The injunction halts the disciplinary proceedings while the court further examines the case.
The WMC wants to carry out the fact-finding hearing, they say, to protect public health and fulfill its disciplinary responsibilities for the medical profession “and to resolve issues of fact and credibility that require the expertise of the Commission to resolve,” according to a court filing (pdf).
Court Commissioner Hailey L. Landrus noted in her ruling that while putting a stay on the proceeding would inconvenience the commission—as lawyers for the WMC argued—it doesn’t demonstrate harm to the public.
‘Chilling Effect’ on Free Speech
Dr. Eggleston, on the other hand, argued that he sought to halt the disciplinary proceedings to assert his First Amendment right to free speech.
Landrus favored the retired doctor’s argument, saying public dialogue by professionals receives strong First Amendment protection, and the mere fact of prosecution can have a “chilling effect” on the exercise of these rights for Dr. Eggleston and other medical professionals.
“Dr. Eggleston has a competing interest in enjoining the disciplinary proceedings in order to seek First Amendment protection for his speech, which is the reason for the administrative proceedings in the first place. Denying a stay would, according to Dr. Eggleston, violate his constitutional right to free speech,” Landrus said in her ruling.
“Balancing the parties competing interests and hardships favors Dr. Eggleston,” the court commissioner added.
She found that it would be more efficient to review the trial court’s decision on the injunction instead of proceeding with a lengthy administrative hearing. Granting the injunction could potentially resolve the entire proceedings, saving time and resources, she noted.
The court’s decision to grant the emergency injunction comes as a significant development in Dr. Eggleston’s ongoing legal battle with the WMC.
The granted stay of the proceedings will delay hearings scheduled to commence this week, Wednesday through Friday. This delay provides a short window of opportunity for the WMC to withdraw the charges against Dr. Eggleston. However, if the WMC chooses not to withdraw the charges, the legal process will proceed as planned.
“I’m very happy to see that this part of the legal system understands this First Amendment issue and basic rights to get accurate information from a physician,” Dr. Eggleston told The Defender.
The legal team representing Dr. Eggleston expressed their satisfaction with the court’s ruling to grant the stay of proceedings. Todd Richardson, one of Dr. Eggleston’s lawyers, emphasized the significance of protecting First Amendment rights.
“As Americans, if we don’t conscientiously defend these foundational rights and freedoms, we may soon wake up to realize we have lost them,” he told The Defender.
The Epoch Times contacted WMC for comment.