Ex-chiropractor not exculpated

No more "religious sacraments," says the judge.

JOHN D. BROWN his day in court last week but left no happier than when he entered.

The former chiropractor, now a self-styled minister in the Church of Alphabiotics, saw all his arguments knocked down without a second thought by King County Superior Court Judge Sharon Armstrong. Acting as his own attorney, Brown was appealing a decision by the state’s Chiropractic Quality Assurance Commission, which earlier this year fined him $30,000 and ordered him not to perform his Alphabiotic sacrament. The board was acting on a complaint from a Lake Stevens woman, Karen Labdon, who said she had suffered a stroke after one of her sessions with Brown in 1997 (see “Mal-adjusted,” SW, 11/16/00).

In court, Brown claimed that the Alphabiotic procedure was a religious “laying on of hands” technique, which he had performed more than 15,000 times over the past 15 years without causing any harm.

Brown, a licensed chiropractor from 1966 to 1993, said he learned the procedure, which consists of pulling a person’s head up and twisting it while they lie on an inclined table, at the International Alphabiotics Institute, near Dallas, Texas, and that it was in no way related to chiropractic adjustments. But one of the board members said he recognized the procedure as an outmoded chiropractic technique known as the Chrane Condyle Lift.

Brown argued that since he had allowed his license to lapse, the board had no jurisdiction over him, and he said their order was an unconstitutional attempt to interfere with his practicing his religion.

But Judge Armstrong, who had reviewed the written arguments beforehand, lost no time in telling Brown that he was wrong on all counts. She said the board members, who include practicing chiropractors, can rely on their own expertise and that he fell under their sway “no matter what [he] calls the procedure.” At the same time, Armstrong said that Brown’s First Amendment rights were superseded by the state’s “compelling interest” in preventing someone from potentially causing strokes and other serious injuries by twisting people’s necks.

Brown left immediately after hearing the judge’s decision, telling Assistant Attorney General Kim O’Neal that he did not believe in the entire process. Outside the courtroom, he refused to comment, saying reporters are “worse than those ambulance-chasing attorneys” and asking this reporter in particular to “get out of my face.”

Labdon said in a telephone interview that she was thrilled by the judge’s ruling. She said there will be a hearing in her civil suit against John Brown on November 27.