President of the Alabama state board sues VMA
The relentless battle of nonprofit spay-neuter clinics in Alabama continues on the pages of lawsuits and subpoenas. The Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners (ASBVME) subpoenaed the records of William Weber, DVM, owner of Eastwood Animal Clinic and the owner of record at the Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic, both in Irondale, Ala., in August. In addition, the president of the ASBVME, Robert Pitman, DVM, sued the Alabama Veterinary Medical Association (ALVMA) in June, stating that the association engaged in “conduct not in the interest of members.”
The lawsuit was filed after the legislative session ended leaving both sides without a victory, either for the ASBVME-backed Senate Bill 25 or the ALVMA-backed House Bill 188. It also followed ALVMA’s decision to require membership to the association to be considered for nomination to the ASBVME. The ALVMA provides the governor with three names for nomination to the board of which the governor chooses one to serve. Gov. Robert Bentley has said he will not select a new appointment until Pitman’s lawsuit is settled.
The term of ASBVME Vice President Ronald Welch, DVM, was set to expire Sept. 16. Welch has been an active supporter of the ASBVME’s efforts to restrict the nonprofit spay-neuter clinics in the state. He and Pitman are still listed on the ALVMA website as association members. “Welch was eligible to be nominated, but he was at the bottom of the list of seven veterinarians,” former ALVMA President Bill Allen, DVM, says. “You can tell how the people in the room felt about it.”
Allen says the tension among Alabama veterinarians is “very uncomfortable.” They have taken sides either with the ASBVME and the allied Alabama Veterinary Practice Owners Association (AVPOA), which desire a very limited role for nonprofit clinics—some believing there is no place for them at all—or with the ALVMA, which wants to establish defined but fair regulations for the state’s four clinics that meet appropriate standards of care. Allen says the division has held up both sides’ bills. “The legislators couldn’t get a feel for what the majority of veterinarians wanted,” he says.
Since the groups have not been able to pass legislation on the issue, the ASBVME continues to push on through legal channels with the subpoena of Weber. “Technically, it’s still illegal for [the Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic] to operate with a ‘nonveterinary’ owner,” Allen says in reference to the state’s veterinary practice act. Although Weber is named as the clinic’s owner and is regarded as the doctor of record for the clinic, he does not work at the clinic but contracts the work of Margaret Ferrell, DVM. There is debate on whether Weber meets the requirements of the state’s veterinary ownership requirement.
The subpoena requested that Weber appear before the board with all documents pertaining to the operations of Eastwood Animal Clinic and the Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic, including surgical and controlled substance logs, calendars, and medical information relating to all surgeries conducted or supervised by Weber from March 20, 2007, to the present. It also requested financial documents and tax forms, along with documents, correspondence, memos, notes and e-mails pertaining to license applications or renewals. The subpoena states that it was issued “with regard to a confidential proceeding to determine if any provisions of the Alabama Veterinary Practice Act or its Administrative Code have been violated.” Presented to Weber on Aug. 7, it gave him until Aug. 10 to produce the documents and appear before the board.
Weber’s lawyer, Chris Waller, filed a complaint to quash the subpoena based on Weber’s inability to comply with only three days’ notice and his right to an attorney. Waller was unavailable to represent his client on Aug. 10. A rescheduled date for Weber’s hearing has not been confirmed but was likely to occur at a Sept. 11 ASBVME meeting.