Board Complaints, Investigations, and Judgements

"Cejas" Hall and What Broken Leg?

On 27 April 27 2008, Stanley Hall brought his German Shepherd dog, "Cejas", to Dr Joel Joseph at Wise Owl Animal Hospital for treatment of an injured leg. Dr Joseph completely missed the mid-shaft fracture of the femur - the long bone that connects the hip to the knee. Dr Joseph saw Cejas a number of days later and the dog still could not put weight on the leg. Yet again Dr Joseph missed the obvious diagnosis that trivial manipulation of the leg would have shown. Mr Hall took Cejas to Dr Edhlund's clinic about three weeks after Dr Joseph first treated the dog where an x-ray demonstrated the obvious fracture.

"Karma" Santiago - Perplexing Incompetence

In April 2011, Rick Santiago took his puppy, "Karma", to Wise Owl Animal Hospital because she was lethargic and losing weight. He was treated for a tick-borne disease with doxycycline, given a large dose of steroids for no medically indicated reason, an injection of Imizol, and sprayed with an insecticide for ticks. Imizol is a dangerous drug reserved for the treatment of babesiosis, a very rare disease on Guam. Moreover it can cause cancer, reacts dangerously with some insecticides, and is not to be used in puppies. The puppy was sent home and continued to decline. When the owner insisted that Karma be seen again, his treatment was handled, in the words of one reviewer, "in a perplexingly incompetent manner."

Karma returned to Wise Owl Animal Hospital dehydrated, feverish (104F and later 106F), with clear evidence on blood work that a severe infection was underway. Despite these indications Karma was given gentamicin, an antibiotic that damages kidneys in dehydrated patients. Karma was next given a very large dose of Banamine which is dangerous for use in dogs, doubly so when combined with steroids. This was followed by yet another big dose of steroids. Karma died later that day.

Two independent reviews, one by Dr Silk (PDF) and another by Dr Poole (PDF) both concluded that the treatment rendered Karma was wildly inappropriate and incompetent.

Board Investigations

Each of these cases, Cejas & Karma, became part of different Board investigations. Each time Dr Joseph was found guilty of negligence and incompetence in those cases plus multiple other ones.

So How Is He Still Practicing?

Dr Joseph's favorite defense is to appeal adverse board verdicts in court. Most often these appeals are based on minor violations of Guam's Open Meeting Laws. The simplest is packing the meeting room with his staff so that a designated "interested person" is unable to attend. His repeated personal attacks on GBAHE members is designed to inflame passions and goad the members into actionable mistakes.

The GBAHE, on the other hand, hasn't done itself any favors. Due process matters and it's very important to hew 110% to the rules. For meetings they must give appropriate notice and exactly specify the agenda.

The single largest problem these board investigations have had is the lack of sound legal advice from the beginning of the process. The courts are appropriately concerned about even the appearance of a due process violation. After all, the board has the power to deny a professional the license necessary for him or her to earn a living. The long-term fix is to fund in-house counsel for each department that can be proactive in making sure any actions Agriculture, Public Health, etc, take are in accordance with the law. By the time someone thinks, "perhaps we should check with a lawyer," it's almost certainly too late and the result will end up in court.

Current Court Cases

At the moment there are five court cases of interest in regard to Dr Joel Joseph and his Wise Owl Animal Hospital.

CVA13-023, Joseph v. Guam Board of Allied Health Examiners

On 6 August 2014 the Guam Supreme Court heard oral arguments in CVA13-023, Joel Joseph v. Guam Board of Allied Health Examiners. The Court has the opportunity to overturn Judge Bordallo's stay of the Guam Board of Allied Health Examiners Order in Disciplinary Case 11-001. This would give the Board's Order the force of law and put Dr Joel Joseph on the sidelines for five years.

The tenor of the hearing was promising. Dr Joseph's attorney, Mitchell Thompson of Thompson, Gutierrez & Alcantara, was peppered with questions by the justices asking in essence, "Are these relatively small violations of the Open Meetings Law enough to nullify the careful work of the Guam Board of Allied Health Examiners? Boards with entirely different members have convicted Dr Joseph multiple times of negligence and incompetence."

However I think it's unlikely that they'll reverse the stay. The courts typically reserve great deference to due process and any side-stepping of the notice requirements, etc, will result in a precedent that will likely bite them in the ass somewhere down the road.

Update: On 6 February 2015 the Guam Supreme Court issued their opinion, 2015 Guam 4 (PDF), that upheld the trial court's judgement voiding the Board's suspension order of 13 June 2012 (GBAHE v Joel Joseph 11-001) albeit for reasons different than those elucidated by Judge Bordallo.

In the Matter of the Application for Renewal of Licensure of Joel Joseph, DVM 14-003

In late September 2012 all licensees governed by the GBAHE were sent a letter stating that the board was scheduled to meet on the first Friday of December to review all license renewals. Further the letter stated, "In the event that there are questions concerning your renewal application, you are then provided adequate time to submit any deficiency."

The Board meeting was held on December 28th. Prior to the meeting, the Board had communicated via letter to Dr Joseph that it had seven issues of concern in regard to renewing his license. Dr Joseph did not attend the meeting, instead he sent his son, Benjamin Schiff (aka Ben-Scott Schiff), to videotape the proceedings. As the Board's concerns were not answered, they voted not to renew Dr Joseph's license. Dr Joseph objected and filed for Writ of Mandate with the Court. In early January 2013 the Judge Vernon Perez issued a stay of the Board's order pending a full evidentiary hearing. The Board also emailed Dr Joseph's attorney that it would permit him to "address" the Board's now-renewal decision at their February 1st meeting but it would not be an evidentiary hearing. Dr Joel Joseph chose not to attend, objecting to the fact that there would be no evidentiary hearing.

Judge Perez held 6 days of hearings in May 2013 to elucidate all the facts and circumstances in the case, Dr Joel Joseph vs GBAHE, Special Proceedings SP0001-13. Along with testimony regarding Controlled Substances Registration and the regulation of x-ray machines was a moment of surreal humor. Dr Joseph was asked to explain his use of the peerage title "Sir". The Marianas Variety of 23 May 2013 summarized it well (court transcript):

[...] Joseph said it was a knighthood from Prince Michael of the Principality of Sealand bestowed on him by Thomas Hanson and the people of the Federated States of Micronesia for the work he had done there. Under questioning from Ben Abrams, assistant attorney general, he became emotional as he explained that his use of the title was a death-bed request from Hanson. At that point, [Judge] Perez called the attorneys into chambers and the line of questioning did not resume.
BTW, anyone can become a Knight of Sealand for 99.99 (US$160). Update: After this web site went live I received an email from offering information about alleged violations of DEA regulations by Dr Joseph. I replied "interesting choice of names" and got back, "What do you mean?" which tells me that thomashansen691 is a Wise Owl zombie.

In January 2014 Judge Perez released his SP0001-13 Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law. Dr Joseph had asked for a Writ of Mandate directing the GBAHE to issue him his license to practice veterinary medicine. The judge found it unnecessary to go that far. Instead he ordered the Board to hold a proper evidentiary hearing where Dr Joseph would allow to present his exhibits and witnesses to dispute the Board's charges.

Preparations for the hearing In the Matter of the Application for Renewal of Licensure of Joel Joseph, DVM 14-003 are on-going. Attorneys on both sides are preparing briefs that address the complaints about Dr Joseph's competence and professionalism raised in the 2012 letter from the Board to Dr Joseph. In a full evidentiary hearing the Board will consider each side's briefing, the testimony and cross-examination of witnesses, and then vote on any disciplinary action (censure, license suspension, license revocation, etc).

It's hoped that with proper legal guidance from the beginning, the Board can construct an airtight case based on elements from the original complaint that weren't found irrelevant by Judge Perez.

SP0137-14, Order on Joel Joseph's Motion for Return of Property

On 8 May 2013, the Department of Public Health and Social Services (DPHSS) executed a search warrant on Wise Owl Animal Hospital to "seize any controlled substances or what appears to be a controlled substance" found on the premises in violation of the Guam Uniform Controlled Substances Act. Besides a number of controlled drugs that were seized, client files, computers, cameras, and cash were also seized.

On 10 October 2014, Dr Joel Joseph filed a motion for Return of the Property Seized under the Warrant. On 11 February 2015 the Court ordered DHPSS to return some of the non-drug property. Judge Anita Sukola held a evidentiary hearing on 20 February 2015 to resolve which drugs should be returned. DHPSS' position was that it had no objection to the return of about half of the the seized drugs. It did object to returning drugs that were unlabled or were not FDA approved. Her decision, SP0137-14 Order on Joel Joseph's Motion for Return of Property (PDF), was published on 6 July 2015. The decision confirmed DHPSS' objections and directed that those drugs remain in the Department's control. She also found that Dr Joel Joseph was in violation of 21 CFR 1301.11(a) and 9 GCA 67.306, the unlicensed importation of controlled substances.

That is a felony under both Federal and Guamian law. The unlicensed importation of a controlled substance has the following penalties:

If the judgement survives Dr Joel Joseph's appeal to the Guam Supreme Court, the Guam Board of Allied Health Examiners can take official notice of Judge Sukola's finding and revoke his license. Unfortunately the Guam Attorney General, Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson, has informed the various licensing boards that her office can no longer represent them in discipline cases. It will be up to the individual boards to hire their own prosecuting attorney out of their very limited budgets. This guts the ability of these regulatory bodies to protect the public.

Joel Joseph, DVM v. Abrams et al, PACER 1:2014cv00005

Partly as a result of the DHPSS search above, on 18 April 2014, Dr Joel Joseph filed a $5M lawsuit against multiple defendants including Benjamin Abrams, Guam Assistant Attorney General in the the Civil Division. Ordinarily a 42 USC 1983 A lawsuit of this kind usually doesn't survive the first motion to dismiss based on prosecutorial immunity. What makes this different is that the Attorney General's office has refused to indemnify its own employees acting in their official duties. "Only on Guam," takes on a very special meaning in this case.

Tri-Mani, LLC v. Joel Joseph, CV0949-15; CV1139-15; CV1182-15 (Unlawful Detainer) (Consolidated)

In June 2015 the Gombars sold the lot and building that Wise Owl is renting to Tri-Mani, LLC. At the same time Dr Joel Joseph stopped paying rent (or continued to not pay, the Gombars haven't said). In early October Dr Joseph was served with a "5 day quit or pay notice" demanding $14,000 in past-due rent. A week later Tri-Mani, LLC filed the first of three Unlawful Detainer complaints.

As these suits progressed, they were finally consolidated and a trial was held on 6 April 2016. On 4 August 2016 Judge Alberto C. Lamorena III released his decision - CV0949-15;CV1182-15 Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law (PDF) - adjudicating the amount of rent owed, the formula for determining attorney's fees, and ordering Dr Joel Joseph to vacate the building in 30 days. See Joel Joseph - Deadbeat Tenant for the subsequent developments in this case.

Index     Top     Previous - Employment     Next - Supreme Court Appeal     Contact: