Pubdate: Wed, 27 Aug 2003
Source: Anderson Valley Advertiser (CA)
Copyright: 2003 Anderson Valley Advertiser
Column: Cannabinotes
Author: Fred Gardner


"People being prosecuted for crimes they are innocent of seldom show 
remorse."  -Frank Kortangian

Tod Mikuriya, MD, has rejected a final settlement offer from the Medical 
Board of California. The deal would have meant four years probation; taking 
classes on ethics, record-keeping, and other areas in which the Berkeley 
psychiatrist is supposedly deficient; and a $10,000 fine. The Board claims 
that its investigation of Mikuriya has cost more than $100,000 -an amount 
for which he now could be found liable.

So, starting on Sept. 3, the courtroom of Administrative Law Judge Jonathan 
Lew in Oakland's State Building (1515 Clay St.) will be the scene of a 
file-by-file review of Mikuriya's handling of 17 cases.

Just as the federal government used unwilling jurors to convict Ed 
Rosenthal in his infamous cultivation case, the state of California is 
using unwilling patients to prosecute Mikuriya for "unprofessional 
conduct."   Not one of the 17 patients who allegedly received sub-standard 
care has filed or expressed a complaint against Mikuriya. Not one has 
reported adverse effects from the treatment he approved. In fact, almost 
all the patients in whose name the Board is bringing this case express 
gratitude and describe Mikuriya as an attentive, empathetic interviewer. 
All had been self-medicating with cannabis before consulting him. Many 
report that Mikuriya was the first and only doctor with whom they could 
discuss the fact that they'd been using marijuana to cope with various 

There is an Alice-in-Wonderland quality to the Mikuriya prosecution. A 
psychiatrist who elicits from his patients the most honest medical history 
they've ever given stands to lose his license for conducting inadequate exams!

Although all the complaints come from law enforcers who resented Mikuriya's 
support for marijuana users, the Medical Board insists that their case has 
nothing to do with marijuana -as if Mikuriya would now stand accused if he 
were a well known proponent of, say, Ritalin!

Mikuriya is charged with violating a "standard of care" that the Medical 
Board has never defined with respect to doctors who approve their patients' 
cannabis use. To add to the irony, for years Mikuriya has been urging the 
Board to adopt specific standards with respect to cannabis approvals, while 
the Board insists that such approvals are equivalent to prescriptions for 
"dangerous drugs."

Key questions in the court of common sense -How safe is cannabis? Is it 
effective in treating the problems reported by Mikuriya's patients?- will 
be irrelevant at the upcoming hearing if the Board has its way. A physician 
named Tracy Duskin, employed by the Board as an expert witness, will 
testify, having read 17 patients' files (obtained by subpoena), that 
Mikuriya failed each of them in certain ways. The defense will call its own 
expert, Richard Hansen, MD, an East Bay psychiatrist, to explain why 
Mikuriya was able to make a valid medical judgment in each case.

Some of the patients who have been asked to testify on Mikuriya's behalf 
will need rides to Oakland from farflung towns when the defense begins 
(possibly as soon as Friday, Sept. 5). If you're interested in transporting 
a friendly witness, please call Mikuriya's assistant, John Trapp, at 

This week Trapp released a list of the complainants, as gleaned from 
documents filed in the case:

Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Del Oros: Patient 1 Nevada 
County Sheriff's Sgt Steve Mason [listed as Commander of the Narcotics Task 
Force] Patients 2, 9, 14 Humboldt County Sheriff's Sgt Steve Knight 
patients 3, 6 El Dorado County Narcotics Det. Bob Ashworth, Patients 4, 7, 
8 Sacramento County Sheriff's Det Jeff McCannon, Patient 5 District 
Attorney's Office Tehama  Patients 11, 12 Tehama County Det. Sgt Dave 
Hencraft  Patients 13, 15 Anonymous (newspaper clip sent to MBC 
Investigator Tom Campbell] 10 Napa County District Attorney's Office 16 
Sonoma Narcotics Task Force 17

All documents relevant to the case (except patients' records, of course) 
can be found on, including the final settlement offer from the 
Medical Board that Mikuriya rejected.

Frank Kortangian

One of the patients who'll need a ride to Oakland to testify for Mikuriya 
is a 66-year-old Navy veteran named Frank Kortangian. He and his wife Lisa 
are caretakers of a ranch in Gray Eagle, a small town in Plumas County. 
Before Frank's back went out in the '90s, he used to do landscaping and 
raise vegetables for the farmers' market.

Like many of the patients involved in the Mikuriya case, Frank Kortangian 
had previously crossed swords with local law enforcers. His letters to the 
editor of the local papers had earned him a rep as an environmentalist and 
a medical marijuana advocate. In the winter of '95-'96, Frank and Lisa 
gathered six pages' worth of signatures for Prop 215. They and others like 
them were the reason it passed.

In September '96 Frank and Lisa were arrested for growing seven plants 
- -four on federal land in Sierra County, and three on the property of a 
local land baron. The bust involved "at least 15 officers" according to 
Lisa  -Sierra County sheriffs, Forest Service, maybe DEA. "They're very 
bored up here," she commented. The plants were about four feet high, grown 
in the shade, and would have yielded less than half a pound of usable 
marijuana, according to knowledgeable witnesses. The Kortangians were 
charged with cultivation, cultivation for sale, and conspiracy.

Frank had informed his doctor that he used marijuana for chronic back pain 
and arthritis, but the doc, described by Lisa as "a yuppie type who doesn't 
want to rock the boat," refused to testify for him. Nor would the Veterans 
Administration doctors he had consulted. Mikuriya interviewed Kortangian, 
reviewed his medical records, and offered to appear on his behalf at a 
preliminary hearing. District Attorney Sue Jackson objected that Mikuriya 
had not been Kortangian's doctor at the time of the bust, and Judge William 
Skillman agreed that Mikuriya should not be allowed to testify.

Kortangian's lawyer, Dale Woods of Truckee, was struck by the level of 
support and direction the District Attorney received from the office of 
Attorney General Dan Lungren. "They would send her boilerplate motions to 
file," he told your correspondent. Jackson was quoted in a local paper, the 
Mountain Messenger, questioning Mikuriya's professional qualifications. "I 
believe there will be some question about the man's license," she said.

Woods urged the Kortangians to accept a plea bargain. Lisa copped to 
misdemeanor possession and got 15 days in jail plus three years' probation, 
although the quantity of mj found at the house was too small to weigh. 
"They wouldn't even consider diversion," she says. Frank got 75 days plus 
three years probation.

Frank Kortangian wrote the following letter back in March '98 to the judge 
who presided over his conviction.

An Open Letter From Frank Kortangian to the Honorable Judge Skillman

I know this letter is highly irregular but you brought up some issues in 
your courtroom which need to be addressed and as you must know it is almost 
impossible for a defendant to say much in your court.

You mentioned several times your frustration with me and my co-defendant 
not accepting responsibility for our actions. You are wrong about that. I 
have from the very beginning taken full responsibility for the seven 
cannabis plants in question. I think what you really wanted to say was, I 
showed no remorse. On that point you would be correct. I don't think I have 
done anything immoral and if some crime was committed, please show me a 
victim besides Lisa and me. As for Lisa, she is not accepting 
responsibility because she is not guilty of anything. People being 
prosecuted for crimes they are innocent of seldom show remorse. You 
pontificated on your view of what the voters had in mind when they enacted 
Health and Safety Code 11362.5 (Prop 215) almost to the point of practicing 
medicine from your bench. Actually the new law is quite simple, perhaps too 
simple for great legal minds like yours to grasp. It was meant to protect 
people with serious illness and chronic pain from prosecution and not the 
medicine of last resort after all other drugs have failed, as is your 
expressed view.

Cannabis is the most benign drug in a physician's Pharmacopaeia. If you 
would have taken time to read my medical records perhaps you would not have 
been so adamant about not allowing me to use a prop 215 medical defense. I 
would have welcomed a chance for a jury trial in which the jurors could 
have heard the whole truth, but apparently you were afraid to let me have a 
fighting chance to keep a felony conviction off my good record.

By convicting Lisa and me you have accomplished one thing: all our many 
friends and acquaintances have been repulsed by the lack of justice in our 
legal system and when we explain how your court has refused to abide by the 
law of the land and would not allow a medical defense in spite of my 
doctor's written recommendation, they are flabbergasted. The Superior Court 
of Sierra County is a shining example of the ever-widening chasm between 
the people and their government.

If your Honor knew Lisa Branda and what a wonderful, kind loving person she 
is, as many of us do, you would be the one showing shame and remorse for 
forcing her to spend even one minute of her exemplary life in your jail.

A quick word about the D.A., a woman who looks at less than a pound of 
medical marijuana, convinces the judge not to allow it to be shown in 
court, and then testifies that it weighed seven pounds. Well all I can say 
about a person of that caliber is that the voters 0f Sierra County are 
indeed fortunate to have a chance to vote for a person with some sense of 
decency in the upcoming elections.

I fully expect some form of government retaliation in response to this 
letter, but I think the people of Sierra County and elsewhere need to know 
how our justice system is being manipulated.

Frank Kortangian

Kortangian reports that the DA who prosecuted him, Sue Jackson, was voted 
out of office and that the current DA has dismissed a number of marijuana 
cases brought by the local police -in other words, there's been some 
progress in them thar hills. Upon hearing that Mikuriya had recently 
undergone heart surgery -a triple bypass- Kortangian proudly expostulated, 
"I beat him -mine was quadruple." That's why he could use a ride.

A comment from attorney Gordon Brownell: "The Kortangian saga demonstrates, 
as if we need reminding, that the roots of the campaign against Tod were in 
the Lungren DOJ and the same soldiers in that effort have not given up the 
crusade... The genesis of this prosecution is found in the 
Lungren/McCaffrey cabal that has never let up in their vindictiveness 
against Tod.  For them to maintain the charade that their accusations have 
nothing to do with recommending marijuana is ludicrous."

This just in from Dale Schafer, husband of Dr. Marian Fry: "Mollie was 
served with a three-count accusation from the Attorney General 8/22. It is 
alleged that she did not do a thorough enough exam and did not have enough 
records before she recommended cannabis. She is the next target. We will do 
our best to fight this. I thought Bill Lockyer was on our side..." 
Simultaneously, the AG's office has decided not to pursue the Medical 
Board's flimsy case against Dr. Frank Lucido (another example of the 
patient thriving). The AG seems to be playing bad cop/good cop with the 
medical marijuana movement.

Says Schafer: "What we want from Lockyer is a general amnesty for doctors 
who were recommending cannabis based on its safety profile and in the 
absence of explicit do's and don'ts from the Medical Board. If the Board 
establishes practice standards and doctors violate them, sanctions would be 
appropriate. But to do it ex post facto is extremely unfair."
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