Maine Board of Dental Practice at a recent meeting.
AUGUSTA — On the eve of a hearing that may determine whether Lewiston oral surgeon Jan Kippax is allowed to continue to practice, his lawyer issued a blistering attack on the state oversight board that will determine the dentist’s fate.
The Maine Board of Dental Practice, which serves as a sort of jury in the long-delayed case, is “irredeemably biased,” attorney James Belleau of Auburn said in a prepared statement issued Thursday.
A hearing into charges that Kippax violated professional standards is slated to begin Friday and continue into Saturday. Belleau said, though, it is merely the start of what could be a long case, with the next session of the hearing to take place in November.
There is no end date in sight, according to the lawyer.
State dental officials were unavailable for comment late Thursday. They have remained mum on the case and its details for months. They have never explained why it is taking so long, though some documents showed that its complexity has confounded a system that typically deals with much simpler cases.
The dental board suspended Kippax in February for 30 days, the longest period allowed, pending a hearing on 18 separate complaints from patients about the care they received. The board said then that Kippax had “put the health and safety of his patients and staff in immediate jeopardy” and if allowed to continue “in his reckless and harmful way” patients would “suffer dire consequences.”
Former patients have told the Sun Journal a variety of stories of what they consider subpar care over the years, including claims that Kippax pulled the wrong teeth, sliced off part of someone’s lip and failed to provide painkillers.
The dental board initially planned a hearing in time to make a decision on his license by March 17, but nothing was done, allowing him to return to dentistry. He reopened his office in Lewiston this past summer.
The administrative hearing the panel plans could strip him of his dental license, fine him or clear him.
Belleau complained that it has taken more than six months for Kippax to get a hearing on the charges lodged against him that will provide him “an opportunity to defend himself against a series of false allegations.”
The initial hearing Friday is only slated to focus on six of the 18 complaints. It is unclear what’s being done with the other dozen.
Belleau called it unfortunate that the board is only proceeding with a third of the overall complaints at this point, which means Kippax “will not be able to respond to two-thirds of the false allegations that the board used to justify its extreme action” in suspending him this past winter.
“Moreover, despite repeated attempts by Dr. Kippax’s counsel to accommodate hearing dates so this matter could be heard promptly and completely, the board has refused to hear the complaints on any other days than Fridays and Saturdays,” Belleau said, a consequence of the inability of its volunteer members to find days when they could reach a quorum given their busy work schedules.
As a result, Belleau said, the panel will only hear “from a few of the state’s witnesses” Friday and Saturday and won’t hear any expert testimony for either the state or Kippax.
Nor will Kippax have a chance to present witnesses who will help him defend himself from the charges, the attorney said.
At the end of the day Saturday, Belleau said, the board “will suspend the hearing and will not continue” it until Nov. 17 and 18. He added that “neither party believes the case will be complete after the November dates, either.”
Because no further dates have been set, he said, “this case will remain in a continued state of suspended animation” for an indefinite period.
Belleau pointed out that during the more than seven months since the initial suspension, two hearing officers have resigned and the board’s chairwoman, Dr. Geraldine Schneider of Auburn, has resigned.
“It is increasingly evident that the board, at the encouragement of an overzealous executive director conscious of the board’s image, shot first and is only now getting around to asking questions,” Belleau said.
He said the board’s procedure in the case “is highly unusual and has placed a –seemingly intentional – financial burden on Dr. Kippax.”
Belleau said that Penny Vaillancourt, the board’s executive director, “has simultaneously acted as an investigator, a prosecutor, a media consultant, a self-appointed spokesperson for the mission of the board, an adviser to the board” and “a confidante to individual board members” whom he said handpicked the first two hearing officers who resigned.
“With each strange procedural move,” he said, “the board compounded its bias.”
“By prolonging this matter, the board is intentionally delaying Dr. Kippax’s opportunity to challenge the board’s egregious overreach and present his case, as is his due process right,” Belleau said.
“Dr. Kippax is seeking a fair and prompt hearing,” he said. “The board is refusing to provide one.”