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News / Northwest

Federal judge dismisses John Stockton’s lawsuit against Washington AG over COVID bans

By Emma Epperly, The Spokesman-Review
Published: May 23, 2024, 7:39am

SPOKANE — A federal court judge dismissed basketball legend John Stockton’s lawsuit against the Washington State Office of the Attorney General Wednesday over pandemic rules that restricted doctors from speaking out against “the mainstream COVID narrative.”

United States District Court Judge Thomas O. Rice dismissed the lawsuit, saying it was brought prematurely because the Washington State Medical Commission had not concluded its investigation into some of the doctors listed in the claim.

Rice also said that medical commissions have the right to regulate professional conduct, even though that conduct incidentally involves speech.

The commission charged doctors Thomas Siler and Richard Eggleston with unprofessional conduct for spreading COVID misinformation in newspaper opinion columns and online. The doctors’ articles included false claims that vaccines are unsafe and COVID tests are inaccurate, according to a statement from the attorney general’s office.

The commission’s proceedings are ongoing. Eggleston was a part of a similar lawsuit in 2023 that Rice also dismissed.

“Adding famous names to a baseless lawsuit can’t change what it is,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement. “If you want to practice medicine in Washington, you just play by the rules. These doctors must face the medical commission and answer for their actions.”

Stockton has been a vocal critic of COVID-19 restrictions. He and the doctors were represented by Rick Jaffe, along with Todd S. Richardson and presidential candidate and attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the son of former U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and the nephew of former President John F. Kennedy. The younger Kennedy is known for his controversial anti-vaccine views.

Jaffe said Wednesday that while he respects Rice and his decision, he wishes the judge would have ruled on the merits of the claim rather than on technical issues.

“I’m not aware of any appellate court in the United States that has ever said that a medical board can sensor, sanction, suppress the public speech of a physician,” Jaffe said. “Claims about that shouldn’t be dismissed on technical grounds like abstention or rightness. I think the appellate court is going to have a lot to say about it.”

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