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NBA Hall-of-Famer among plaintiffs in lawsuit over WA state COVID-19 restrictions

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(The Center Square) – NBA Hall-of-Famer John Stockton of Spokane is among the plaintiffs suing Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Washington Medical Commission executive director Kyle Karinen over alleged free-speech sanctions levied against health care providers who spoke out against state restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The plaintiffs’ legal counsel includes Robert F. Kennedy Jr. of New York, nephew of the late President John F. Kennedy and a current U.S. presidential candidate himself. Kennedy, like Stockton, has been critical of COVID-19 vaccinations and other health-related measures recommended by many medical professionals during the pandemic.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court of Eastern Washington where Stockton and another plaintiff, retired ophthalmologist Dr. Richard Eggleston of Clarkston, reside. Also joining the legal action are two other retired Washington doctors, Thomas T. Siler and Daniel Moynihan, along with the Children’s Health Defense and up to 50 other unnamed “John and Jane Does” physicians.

According to the Washington Medical Commission, both Eggleston and Siler have enforcement actions pending against them.

In their 20-page complaint, the plaintiffs allege the state medical commission investigated, prosecuted, or sanctioned approximately 60 physicians who “spoke out against the mainstream COVID narrative in September 2021.”

“There is no place for the government, under the guise of regulating physicians and protecting the public, to censure, restrict or sanction the content and viewpoint of the publicly expressed views of physicians on COVID or any other subject, just because the government does not like the message or thinks it is wrong,” the complaint states.

Moynihan is a volunteer with Children’s Health Defense, a nonprofit group which says it seeks to end childhood health epidemics by working to eliminate “harmful exposures” and establish safeguards to “prevent future harm.” The group claims COVID vaccinations pose a “negative risk-benefit profile” for healthy children.

The plaintiffs say the purpose of their lawsuit is “to protect the right of physicians to speak, and the right of the public to hear their message. The goal is to stop the Commission from investigating, prosecuting or sanctioning physicians who speak out in public against … edicts put out by the CDC and repeated by primary news outlets, which has caused the public to lose trust in the public health authorities, which has caused the CDC to repeatedly apologize and promise to do better.”

Guidelines espoused by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention evolved after the pandemic arrived in early 2020 and scientists learned more about the mutable characteristics of the highly infectious coronavirus. But the CDC, along with the Washington Department of Health and the American Medical Association, all consistently advised that eligible persons, including children, get vaccinated and to mask up in crowds and public indoor spaces as effective ways to slow transmission of the disease and reduce severity among infected persons.

No responses had yet been filed in court by the state medical commission and attorney general’s office and no hearing dates have been set. Karinen and Ferguson are listed as defendants because their offices respectively investigate and charge physicians with misconduct and prosecute in disciplinary cases.

The plaintiffs are not seeking any compensatory damages, but they are asking the court for a declaratory judgment and injunction that investigations and sanctions against alleged-offending physicians violate their First Amendment free-speech rights.

Stockton, 61, played basketball collegiately at Gonzaga University in Spokane and later starred as an NBA point guard during his 19-year career with the Utah Jazz. But his opposition to state masking and vaccine mandates prompted Gonzaga to suspend Stockton’s season tickets to home games during the 2022 season.

The complaint says Stockton is suing the state on his own behalf and “advocates for all Washingtonians who share his belief that people have the First Amendment right to hear the public soapbox speech of Washington licensed physicians who disagree with the mainstream COVID narrative.”

Along with Kennedy, legal counsel representing the plaintiffs include Clarkston attorney Todd Richardson and attorney Richard Jaffe of Sacramento, who has been involved in several prior COVID-19 “misinformation” cases with the California Medical Board, one of which resulted in a preliminary injunction.

Although emergency vaccination and indoor masking mandates had largely been lifted in Washington by last spring, COVID-19 remains a serious threat, according to the state Department of Health.

“Washington residents have died from COVID-19 each week in 2024, and long COVID remains a risk,’ the DOH says on its website. “It is important that everyone continues to protect themselves and others from respiratory viruses. This includes staying current with vaccinations, staying home when sick, taking steps for cleaner air, wearing masks in crowded and/or poorly ventilated places, and frequent hand washing.”

The CDC reports that Washington state has experienced 15,843 deaths related to COVID-19 between Jan. 1, 2020 and March 2 of this year, including 352 deaths in the past three months. Nationwide, there have been over 1.83 million related deaths in the same time frame, the CDC says.