When we last left cancer quack Stanislaw Burzynski, he was facing the Texas Medical Board on some 200 pages worth of charges, which stem in part from patient complaints and in part from documents originally FOIAed by skeptics and publicized by USA Today. As far as I can tell, all of the original charges are still there, but the judge ordered the TMB to slim the charges down to a manageable size. In March, Burzynski lost a large number of motions to suppress evidence, including testimony by FDA inspectors, FDA inspection documents, and the testimony of a former employee that seemed especially damaging to him. These motions generated an enormous amount of paperwork, a huge chunk of the sum total of the legal documentation produced during the proceedings so far. I thought that it must have been expensive. Turns out it was.
In late July, a very surprising document appeared in the public case file at the SOAH website. It was titled, “RESPONDENT’S COUNSEL MOTION TO WITHDRAW”. Rick Jaffe, Burzynski’s attorney for the last couple of decades, was in large part responsible for Burzynski not going to prison in the 1990s. He also helped open the loophole that has allowed Burzynski to profit mightily off the misery of patients by putting patients into FDA-approved clinical trials of Burzynski’s almost certainly worthless patent medicine, which he calls antineoplastons. Burzynski has sat comfortably in this loophole for better part of the last 20 years, not producing convincing results for any of the 60+ trials he opened and charging huge fees for his services. Honestly, I thought Jaffe would be buried in the Burzynski family crypt.
Soon, a new lawyer, Dan Cogdell, started filing motions on Burzynski’s behalf. Cogdell is a criminal defense lawyer who was also part of the original team that kept Burzynski out of prison. He has since successfully defended an Enron executive, and appears to be counsel for the Texas Attorney General, who has been indicted on charges of violating state securities laws.
Anyway, the judge in Burzynski’s case was concerned that it was very late in a very complicated case to be changing lawyers. At all points, as is only correct, the court protected Burzynski’s due process rights. Another administrative law judge heard Jaffe’s explanation in private and decided that Jaffe needed to withdraw from the case. We still did not know why though.
The answer came soon, however, when Jaffe withdrew from another case, that of Greg Burzynski, the apple that did not fall far enough from the tree. Greg is facing very similar charges to his old man’s but that case is fairly early on in the litigation process. Jaffe explained in his motion to withdraw:
Respondent is a vice president and an employed physician at the Burzynski cancer clinic in Houston. The clinic is owned by Respondent’s father, Stanislaw R. Burzynski. Undersigned counsel had represented Stanislaw Burzynski in a related SOAH board case.
Undersigned counsel is taking legal action against Respondent’s employer which might have a material adverse effect on Respondent’s interests as an officer and employed physician at the clinic. As a result of such action, undersigned counsel will likely have a conflict of interest with Respondent, at least until the anticipated legal action is resolved.
And there it was. Rick Jaffe was suing Burzynski. I squeed. So, I went to PACER, a national database of legal filings and periodically checked up to see if there was any more action, and when you look up Burzynski, you see that he is in bankruptcy court for proceedings instigated by Jaffe. Before you get too excited, this is one way a lawyer tells you, “Give me my damned money.” According to the filings at PACER, Jaffe has charged Burzynski almost a quarter of a million dollars and Burzynski is not paying.
Once the judge signed off on the new counsel, the new team started asking for continuances, delays so that they can get up to speed. The Texas Medical Board staff vigorously resisted the notion that a continuance was in order because one of the conditions for Burzynski changing counsel was that that it would not alter the trial schedule. Also, as the TMB noted in their objection:
There is no hardship involved in this scheduling, because Respondent has already had years, not months of notice; years, not months of opportunity for discovery; years, not months of delays in being held accountable.
The TMB also mentioned that one of the witnesses, Patient E, had died during previous delays.
In the motion for the continuance, the Burzynski team went so far as to suggest that perhaps Jaffe had hurt Burzynski’s case deliberately:
Additionally, Mr. Jaffe has now led suit against Respondent in the Bankruptcy Court in an attempt to force an involuntary bankruptcy for the Respondent. It is Respondent’s belief that Mr. Jaffe has taken actions to undermine Respondent’s position in this case, all of which prejudices Respondent and his ability to properly prepare his defense.
The TMB challenged this characterization:
When Respondent claims that Mr. Jaffe cast a shadow and concem regarding his actions in his representation of Respondent in this matter, that’s just another way of saying that somebody thinks that Mr. Jaffe did a really bad job as Respondent’s attorney.
Perhaps one of the most interesting and surprising items in the motion for a continuance, was the Burzynski team’s request for mediation:
Finally, Respondent desires to have this case mediated prior to a hearing on the merits in the hope that the pending issues can be resolved amicably with the Medical Board’s Staff, as opposed to proceeding to a full trial on the merits.
This could be another stall for time or it could be an indication of how weak Burzynski thinks his case is. But the TMB was not having any of it:
Board Staff’s Complaint in this case sets out Respondent’s egregious, unethical, unprofessional conduct that includes serious violations of the standard of care and a systematic practice set up for Respondent to avoid responsibility for his clinical decision making, the adverse effects of his treatment decisions, his direction of his unlicensed employees to mislead patients into believing that they are being treated by licensed physicians and his failure to appropriately and adequately supervise the employees under his direction and control. Respondent made no previous attempts to even inquire about mediation, but under these allegations, it is difficult to see any prospect that has not already been repeatedly communicated to Respondent’s counsel, former and current. If there was ever a time for the mediation process at SOAH, it has long passed. If Respondent wishes to make an offer of settlement, Board Staff will appropriately handle it, but that is no reason for delay in this proceeding.
The judges stood by the original schedule that they had set for the rest of the proceedings. According to the scheduling order, the hearing on the merits will begin at:
9:00 a.m. on November 19, 2015, at the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH), 300 West 15th Street, Fourth Floor, Austin, Texas, and will continue through November 25, 2015, before recessing until January 19, 2016, when it will reconvene at 9:00 a.m. and continue through January 29, 2016, if necessary.
Why do we mention the time/dates? In the past, Burzynski’s supporters have shown up to all of his legal proceedings in the past, truly believing that if their doctor loses his license or goes to jail, they will die. They’ve been very effective at persuading media to cover them favorably, and there has never been a skeptical voice present to answer questions for the media. Honestly before now there have never been enough people aware of what’s happening at the clinic to mount an effective skeptical showing. I’m asking for volunteers in the Austin area to go to the State Office of Administrative Hearings on the morning of Nov. 19th and exercise their right to protest the ongoing travesty that is the Burzynski Clinic. If you are interested, please contact The Skeptics for the Protection of Cancer Patients via email at SkepticsProtect@gmail.com or through their Facebook page, and we’ll make arrangements from there.
If you are in the Austin area, please come out to speak for those patients who are silent. It’s probably the most important thing that skeptics can do.
For a quick background on Burzynski and his dubious treatment you can do no better than David Gorski’s 2013 TAM presentation:
And my follow up, where we put some faces to the misery and discover some additional horrors about the Burzynski Clinic:
The Skeptics for the Protection of Cancer Patients is a group of cancer survivors, family, and community members devoted to advancing ethical, promising, and transparent cancer research. For more information, visit thehoustoncancerquack.com or the SPCP Facebook page.