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The story of the case fought and won by Dr. Levin, on behalf of patients seeking integrative and complementary medicine, told by the attorney who defended him, VS the State of New York.
If Hippocrates is the father of medicine, then Warren M. Levin is New York’s savior of alternative medicine.
In the late 1980’s, Dr. Levin’s nightmare began and would not end for well over fifteen years. It would start with New York’s Commissioner of Health’s far-fetched idea to rid New York of alternative medical doctors and end when the truth came into the light.
Not one complaint from a patient or another clinician. And, no idea that this was all coming, like a starving great white shark honing in on the only meal he thought he could easily take. Oh, there were other meals floating about – Dr. Robert Atkins, for one. But surely the ravenous beast could not take on such a famous and wealthy clinician. That would be suicide for the creature. And it had to think ‘survival’ if it hoped to prey on other unsuspecting and innocent morsels of flesh. The monster’s name was David Axelrod, Superintendent of the New York State Department of Health, and his pilot fish was none other than “a self-professed “quackbuster” – Victor Herbert, M.D., J.D.
The only one who had a problem with Dr. Levin was Herbert. But it would take over several hundred thousands of dollars, a good lawyer and community support to put things right.
The envelope was delivered – not marked ‘personal and confidential’ as it should have been, and opened by the receptionist as was standard procedure for all business mail. But this was not an invoice, payment or an advertisement. It was Terrance Sheehan’s letter giving Dr. Levin ten days to dig up old charts and appear in person for review. Sheehan was the lawyer “nominated to drive the effort to capture the doctor’s medical license.” Another pilot fish, but larger than Herbert.
This wasn’t the first round with the State Office of Professional Medical Conduct (OPMC). His first lawyer, now a judge, had taken him through three rounds of hearings and appeals. Nine years had passed and he truly believed that it was over. It wasn’t over, just resuscitated for yet another round of stalking – anticipating a feast of a license, headlines and a round of back-patting as the reward.
Dr. Levin didn’t start out as an alternative practicing clinician. In fact, he was practicing for many years the methods he learned in medical school – treat the symptoms to manage the illness. However, one patient turned things around for him. A female patient who “was not content with symptom relief alone” came back to tell him about another doctor who had added “complementary methods to customary medical treatments” and the results were amazing. This was enough for Dr. Levin to investigate further, and based on what he learned, he began to incorporate these complementary methods into his own practice. Now he was able to cure – not just “palliate.” These additions led to “healthy lifestyles, thus making the patients partners in their own care.”
Dr. Levin would not be told what charges were being brought against him. He would not be told names, if any, of those that filed complaints. And as it turned out, there weren’t any! He would be told nothing that would help him prepare for the dinner plans of the OPMC. This would be the fight of his life. If he wins, he gets to continue to practice medicine. But lose and he would be flailing about like a fish out of water. He could not imagine not being a doctor – he had worked all of his life to “do no harm.” He would need a lawyer. He would need to tell Susan.
Susan, the love of his life and his amazing support, would not let it rest even though it was a WarrenSusanlong holiday weekend. She knew a doctor whose license had been saved and she phoned him. She was given the name of a “big” attorney and placed the call. He would see them Tuesday morning – the 4th of July.
Schneider, Harris & Harris being the target office – Robert Harris would be the big lawyer they would see. And big he was at “six-feet three inches and at least 450 pounds.” Harris read over the paperwork and determined that Dr. Levin was being charged with “incompetence.” But how could that be? “The tests I conduct, the treatments I offer, solve patients’ problems on a very deep level,” Dr. Levin explained, “getting to the root cause and not just palliating the symptoms. I practice good, solid medicine; my work makes a big difference in my patients’ lives.” Harris expressed that his concern was about saving Dr. Levin’s license. Susan made a decision – “You’re hired,” she said.
Harris needed to fully understand what it was that Dr. Levin did in his alternative practice. Dr. Levin explained the testing, treatments, and the denials of coverage based on the Insurance Companies’ system of Peer Review. “Harris was impressed, and he didn’t impress easily.” It was all science-based, just not mainstream medicine.
Harris received a letter from Sheehan that stated Victor Herbert would be their only witness. Harris had to know who this person was – he called Dr. Levin. “What a joke. On top of the ridiculous charges the state has brought against me, bringing Victor Herbert in…as the state’s only witness, no less, has got to be the biggest joke of all!” Levin exclaimed. It was well known that Herbert went after physicians who did not practice or think as he did. If they did anything differently, he labeled them a QUACK – “an untrained person who pretends to be a physician and dispenses medical advice and treatment; a charlatan.” Herbert had also given a presentation to The Association of Life Insurance Medical Directors of America – “How to Recognize Questionable Tests and Therapies.” It was clear to Dr. Levin that this was the ammunition they were using to try to take his medical license away. And Herbert’s temper was established after Dr. Levin told Harris about the time Herbert was arrested and convicted of assaulting a conference attendee because he refused to turn off his recording device. Now Harris knew who and what Herbert was. “Know thy self, know thy enemy.”
It is common for the witnesses to be questioned, to undergo voir dire, to determine if his/her “expertise is real and meaningful.” Harris asked Herbert if he had been honest on his medical application. Herbert responded that he had. What he did not know was that Harris had done his homework and found that Herbert had not been truthful – Herbert had lied about his “financial situation.” Harris was relentless. Harris asked Herbert about his “passed exam” for the American Board of Internal Medicine in 1959, “and you passed the exam for the American Board of Nutrition in 1967.”
“That’s correct, Mr. Harris.”
As it turned out, Herbert had received a waiver and had never taken the exam he claimed to have passed. Furthermore, Harris revealed that he could find no place in his gigantic resume that Herbert had ever had training or residency in nutrition. Harris poked the truth sword in deeper, “I guess we’ll just have to assume, once again, that lying is acceptable if the ends justify the means.”
The third lie of the day was Herbert’s response to Harris’ question when he asked if Herbert had any prejudice against Dr. Levin. Herbert said that he did not. However, once again, Harris had his ducks in a row – it seems Herbert had written an editorial “for the New York State Journal of Medicine” where he stated that he had brought charges of professional misconduct and claimed that some of these people were still practicing. However, he must have forgotten that he named Dr. Levin as one of those still in practice.
This could possibly mean that Herbert was responsible for their being in the hearing room today – which would make him a complainant and a witness – violating “any concept of a fair trial.” Things were not looking good for Herbert or the committee’s choice in witnesses. An objection was made and the hearing was suspended — in order for them to regroup.
When the hearing reconvened, Sheehan was center stage with the reading of the charges against Dr. Levin. After reading the ridiculous and unfounded charges, he closed with, “The standards that Dr. Levin beached are the minimally acceptable standards for all physicians in the state of New York.” He finished with an even more absurd statement, “Dr. Victor Herbert is the ‘soul’ if the state’s case against Dr. Levin and there isn’t any other doctor who is qualified to testify about Dr. Levin’s incompetence!”
It is not far-fetched to say that after catching Herbert in three lies right off the bat, coupled with his assault conviction and his open distaste for anyone practicing alternative medicine that anyone could see that the state of New York had made their second bad decision, asking Herbert to testify – their first was thinking they could take Dr. Levin’s medical license without a fight.
Harris gave his opening. It was impressive. He was impressive. “One day you’re a well-respected professional and a pioneer in your field, held in high esteem by your clients or patients, revered by your colleagues, essential to the professional groups you belong to and contribute to, to the groups in which you are an officer and leader…and the next day you’re fighting to stay alive in your profession, fighting a fight that goes on and on for nine years. This is not a simple malpractice trial, lady and gentlemen. This is way, way bigger than that. And the state has called only one alleged expert to the stand. So be it. We’re ready, Your Honor. The defense is ready.”
“However much Herbert would say to discredit the doctor fighting valiantly to save his license was how much harder the defense would fight to attack Herbert’s creditability, using proven medical knowledge and solid information during cross-examination.”
The hearing went on and on. Harris watching Herbert drowning in his own arrogance and ignorance and Harris handing him more anchors. Then, it was Dr. Levin’s turn on the stand. He had waited years to make his story known. He was brilliant. “My God,” Harris thought. “People thought Hamlet’s soliloquy was so great. Shakespeare had nothing on Warren Levin!” Now, they would wait for the decision.
Susan would speak at the American College for Advancement in Medicine (ACAM) meeting. She was stunning and eloquent. These were colleagues and she would deliver a message many would never be able to forget. “Let me remind you of some of our physicians who have been disciplined, those who fought valiantly to keep their licenses…and those who eventually lost their licenses to practice medicine. So many of those who fought the system were left broke…and broken,” she said. She called out eighteen names of the broken – all members of the then very small group of people that sat in the room. She continued by pointing out clinicians in the room and letting them know that it could happen to them…if the battle was not won. Susan received a standing ovation. After her speech, Dr. Levin “knew that he was a fortunate man. He had to remember that. No matter what.”
The three-person Hearing Panel took months to issue their report. They specifically observed that Victor Herbert’s testimony was so tainted by his histrionics and lies, as well as being contradicted by Levin’s huge collection of peer-reviewed articles that supported his extensive testimony, that they were forced to ignore the State’s witness.
They then made the egregious error of using their own opinions as a basis for issuing a unanimous conviction on the charges! Dr. Levin had no choice but to appeal to the Civil Court system to overturn the “Administrative” Court’s decision – another expensive lesson in the intricacies of our Legal System. Levin was relieved when the Appeal was upheld. That balloon also burst when the State moved to appeal to the Second level of the Appellate System. At that Hearing, the State won by citing a precedent from a Mafia case in a closed Hearing with a Judge – without representation for Dr. Levin! The Court of Appeals is the highest State court in New York. A blue ribbon triumvirate was assigned for this final Appeal. Harris was notified that he would have ten minutes to present his case – he requested more time and was granted twenty minutes. The Prosecution presents first. Mr. Sheehan merely said that the record speaks for itself. Harris then stood up and began his summation, and at exactly twenty minutes, Sheehan stood up and said to the Court, “His 20 minutes are up.” The Chief Judge banged his gavel and said, “Mr. Sheehan, sit down and shut up!” Dr. Levin later said that he knew then that there was hope for justice after all. The Tribunal interrupted Harris to ask questions, but he spoke for well over an hour, and then the Court was adjourned.
The long awaited decision was delayed for many months due to the sudden illness of one of the Judges, but the final determination arrived at last.
“It came,” Dr. Levin said to Susan. These were few words, but Susan knew what he meant. The decision had been sent in a big, heavy envelope. They would have dinner with Harris tonight – where they would all learn the fate of Dr. Levin’s medical license. Harris opened the envelope, removed its contents, and paged through it all briefly. He looked up and said, “It’s over and you’re free!” — “They failed to make you the PRIME EXAMPLE.”
Victory marked a milestone. The passage of the New York State Alternative Medical Practice Act, signed by Governor Cuomo in 1994, came after more than 18 years from the start of the investigation into Dr. Levin’s Alternative practice. “Many of the things that Warren Levin was prosecuted for (perhaps I should say persecuted) are the standard of medical care in 2011.” And Dr. Levin is still practicing medicine – now in Washington, D.C. – with Susan at his side, and as of this review, these things are still the standard of medical care.
This is a true story and one that each physician in the United States should read – and be thankful for the courage and tenacity this physician showed when not only saving his own medical license, but by having been forced all the way to the Court of Appeals, he also provided a legal precedent for other licensees who practice Alternative approaches to medicine.
Dr. Levin and Dr. Fran Gare discuss the significance of Candida-related complex (CRC) and other species of yeast (fungi) infections in human health. Book review by Sue Vogan.
Interviews and articles by Dr. Levin on topics ranging from Lyme to Candida.
From the hazards of BPA in baby bottles, to the increasing practice of adding food dyes where you wouldn't expect them to be in, find useful insights and advice from selected newsletters.