Veterinarian loses Supreme Court appeal

CONCORD – A Nashua veterinarian whose medical license was revoked for six months after allegations that he knowingly hired a fugitive from justice, berated workers with foul language and did not follow proper medical practice in two cases, has lost his appeal before the state Supreme Court.

In a ruling handed down Monday, the court unanimously rejected a series of arguments put forth by Roland Huston, owner of State Line Veterinary Hospital at 325 Daniel Webster Highway in Nashua.

Huston had sought to overturn a Dec. 18, 2002, ruling by the New Hampshire Board of Veterinary Medicine. The board suspended Huston’s medical license from March 1 to Sept. 1 of this year and fined him $9,000.

Huston, who has been a veterinarian for 30 years, has had his license conditionally reinstated through March 2005, subject to several conditions. These include unannounced inspections by the veterinary board and “proof that Dr. Huston is taking appropriate steps to address interpersonal skills and anger management.”

Huston’s attorney, Robert Shepard, was not available for comment Monday. Huston declined to discuss the ruling without him.

In his appeal, Huston argued that the Board of Veterinary Medicine overlooked or incorrectly disallowed several pieces of evidence, but the Supreme Court ruled in the board’s favor.

Huston also argued that it was a conflict of interest for two members of the state attorney general’s office to prosecute the case, while a third served as the lawyer advising the Board of Veterinary Medicine. This, Huston said, resulted in lawyers arguing a case in front of a judicial group advised by their colleague – something that would not be allowed by private attorneys.

“The petitioner’s argument rests upon a false premise. He assumes that the ethical obligations of private and public attorneys are identical in all circumstances,” wrote the Supreme Court, which went on to say that state professional standards allow such a situation.

The probe began after employee complaints were filed against the State Line Veterinary Clinic, which is opposite Pheasant Lane Mall, starting in August 2000. Five present and former workers accused Huston of throwing angry tantrums that included the use of expletives and terms like “whores” and “morons.”

The subsequent investigation led to a three-day hearing in December, which saw nine prosecution witnesses, and Huston testifying on his own behalf. The Board of Veterinary Medicine eventually ruled that Huston:

n Used foul language to refer to his employees, in violation of professional standards.

n Allowed John Settle Jr. to live at State Line Veterinary Clinic from 1998 to 2001, and work as a night manager, even though Huston knew Settle was a fugitive from justice. Settle had been convicted of welfare fraud.

n Failed to maintain proper records for two canine patients: Sergeant Dunn, a bull mastiff, and Oscar Bowen, a rat terrier.

n Failed to treat Sergeant Dunn properly, including giving the dog an X-ray after it was dead, and “inexplicably” giving it a rabies vaccine the day before it died, even though its condition was deteriorating rapidly.

Much of the veterinary board’s ruling concerned medical issues about the treatment of this bull mastiff, based largely on testimony by James Paine of Russell Animal Hospital in Concord, who investigated the case for the board.

Sergeant Dunn was admitted to the clinic on Nov. 27, 2000, for unspecified reasons, and died eight days later.

The board agreed with a number of allegations about the treatment, although not all of them.

The board’s records say Huston testified during the hearing that the case of Sergeant Dunn “got away from (him).”

The veterinary board’s records say that Huston admitted not euthanizing three cats despite taking money from their owners to do so. At least two of the cats were adopted without their previous owner’s consent, which Huston allegedly admitted was “a ‘big’ mistake,” but which was not included as part of the board’s rulings.