Chiropractic Board allowed to deliberate in secrecy
MISSOURI–A state appeals court in Kansas City held in late November that the state Board of Chiropractic Examiners can conduct deliberations in meetings that are closed to the public and press.
The court held that the Missouri open meetings law does not prevent closed judicial or “quasi-judicial” deliberations.
The court noted that the chiropractic board performs many functions and at different times performs executive, legislative and judicial activities. While the open meetings law clearly mandates that executive, legislative and judicial “information obtaining” activities be conducted in proceedings that are open to the public, the court held that board members, like a judge or jury, must be given the opportunity to conduct the decision-making phase of the process “free from any clamor or pressure, so [the members] can calmly analyze the evidence and deliberate upon questions of fact, upon the applicable law, and considerations of policy.”
This case stems from a 1994 board decision to suspend the chiropractic license of Nadim Nasrallah. In 1993, Nasrallah pled guilty to charges of mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail fraud. In July 1994, the board conducted a disciplinary hearing that was open to the public, but deliberated in private. The next month the board decided to suspend Nasrallah’s license to practice for 24 months and place him on probation for five years.
Nasrallah filed suit in the Circuit Court in Jefferson City, arguing that the board should have conducted its deliberations in public. The trial court held that the board had not violated the open meeting laws. Nasrallah appealed and the appeals court affirmed.
The appeals court based it decision in part on the fact that the board is comprised of five chiropractors and one lay member. The court reasoned that the lay member is not as knowledgeable about the chiropractic profession as the other members and would be reluctant to participate in public deliberations “for fear of creating an image of ignorance.” Further, the court reasoned, “[p]ublic deliberations would stifle freedom of debate and check independence of thought.” The court held that open deliberations would defeat the object of the disciplinary proceeding.
A dissenting judge on the three-judge panel said that the trial court erred when it held that the board’s interest in private deliberations outweighed the public interest in hearing the deliberations leading to Nasrallah’s suspension. The dissenting judge would have declared the suspension void under the open meetings law and would have ordered the board to reconsider its decision in an open meeting. (Nasrallah v. Missouri State Board of Chiropractic Examiners; Appellant’s Counsel: Thomas Vetter and John Landwehr, Jefferson City)