Tuesday, August 09, 2005

S.C. Supreme Court holds proper findings must be made before judge can close a physician disciplinary hearing

In Island Packet v. Kittrell, the state Supreme Court considered the power of an administrative judge to close a physician disciplinary hearing without making formal findings. Island Packet requested the state Supreme Court to require the Administrative Law Court ("ALC") to issue a written order explaining its decision to close a 2004 review of the Medical Board's order despite Island Packet's requests to be present and to be given an opportunity to object to any attempt to close the proceedings. The Court ruled in favor of Island Packet, noting that

The ALC's order does not comply with South Carolina law because specific findings regarding why the proceedings should be closed were not made on the record. While the ALC did not err by closing the proceedings given the disciplinary proceedings were still in the investigatory stage, the ALC is still required to make specific findings on the record, especially given the fact Island Packet had directly requested an opportunity to be present and privy to the proceedings. The ALC should have engaged in an analysis that balanced the interests of the physician and the public and should have explained the need for closure. Therefore, the ALC could not seal the records until after specific findings, as to why closure was necessary, were made on the record. Because the findings were not made, this matter is remanded to the ALC for that purpose.

The State Newspaper has this account of the ruling.

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