Nevada County holistic physician Harvey Bigelsen pleaded no contest Friday to using the titles “Dr.” or “M.D.” in his business letterhead, cards or ads as part of a deal negotiated with Nevada County District Attorney’s office, canceling a trial previously set for Feb. 17.
“I’m glad it’s over,” said Bigelsen, 74, whose former Biological Health Institute in Nevada City was raided March 20, 2014, by investigators from the California State Medical Board. “I think the DA realized it was BS.”
The no-contest plea, not a frank admission of guilt but considered in legal terms the same as a guilty plea, was to one of nine misdemeanor counts filed against Bigelsen in the high-profile yearlong case alleging he practiced medicine without a license. The other eight counts will be dismissed, Deputy District Attorney Ray DeJesus told Nevada County Superior Court Judge Linda Sloven. Two misdemeanor counts against Bigelsen’s son, Josh Bigelsen, 41, will also be dropped.
Under terms of the plea deal, Bigelsen will serve a two-year probation for the single count, during which time he may not use the titles “Dr.” or “M.D.” in connection with his business — although he may use those titles in other contexts, such as lecturing, teaching or being an author.
During the two years, his business will be subject to search and seizure without notice, under terms of the deal outlined by DeJesus on Friday.
“We think it was a very reasonable outcome,” said Bigelsen’s attorney Setara Qassim, assistant to Southern California celebrity attorney Mark Geragos. “I’ve been told by the (Nevada County) D.A.’s office that the California Medical Board is not happy with this resolution — they wanted the full prosecution.”
Sloven set a date for sentencing when the two-year probation period ends on Feb. 14, 2017. Qassim said that if all goes well during the two years, Bigelsen will likely withdraw the plea at that time. If he withdraws the plea, all the charges will be dropped, without any conviction.
Bigelsen, who lost his house and filed for bankruptcy in the past year that he was unable to work, also will be required to pay $6,750 in costs for the state and local investigations.
“He gets to resume his life,” Qassim said. “He won’t be on pause anymore.”
DeJesus also agreed Friday to release Bigelsen’s two high-powered microscopes that he uses to analyze live blood samples and offer consultations on the results of the analyses. Qassim said she would make the necessary arrangements to retrieve the microscopes as soon as possible.
Bigelsen said Friday he would likely open a “private club” where people can have their blood analyzed and receive his reports. He said he was not sure where or when the club would be opened, although he said he has had some interest from contacts in Mexico. The University of Mexico City has also expressed interest in him doing research there, he said. He and his wife, Judy, said they were grateful for the local support.
“This town has been so great,” said Bigelsen in offering thanks to the dozens of Nevada County residents who wrote letters to the editor of The Union in support, who attended the multiple court hearings, who posted good wishes on Facebook and who helped raise money for his legal defense. “I want to give some lectures here.”
About 20 supporters attended the brief hearing Friday, some calling the prosecution a “witch hunt” and a “house of horrors.”
“I think they knew they really couldn’t win,” said James Henderson of Grass Valley, referring to the legal case. “He wasn’t practicing medicine, he was practicing health.”
Bigelsen, a trauma surgeon during the Vietnam War, surrendered his medical license decades ago in Arizona in a plea deal, after the medical establishment prosecuted him regarding paperwork coding protocols used by some of Bigelsen’s then-clinic associates who were chelation therapists.
Bigelsen, who has written numerous books and who is credited with drafting Arizona’s first homeopathic medicine licensing law, left the country after that to practice in Mexico.
He returned to the U.S. later to open the clinic in Nevada City, where he said he operated as a consultant to licensed naturopathic and osteopathic physicians.
“I served my country as a doctor, deciding on life and death and performing 200 surgeries,” said Bigelsen, wearing a veterans’ baseball cap, of his time in Vietnam. “It’s so insulting that I can’t be called a doctor.”
For Nevada City activist Reinette Senum, the prosecution against Bigelsen was “just sabotage.”
“I’ve never seen so many letters to the editor (of The Union),” she said. “They came in from all over the country.
“People who never even met him said to me, ‘From what I can tell, this is a friggin’ witch hunt,’” Senum said.
Markus Keicher of North San Juan said it was “heartbreaking” that Bigelsen, who he said helped many clients for free, would not be available any more to the community.
“(Bigelsen) is one of the best resources for healing anywhere,” Keicher said. “Talk about a house of horrors.”
Josh Bigelsen said he doubted whether he or his parents, who are both “broke” after a year of legal expenses and not being able to work, would stay in California. He said he wondered how much taxpayer money was spent on the case.
“They could have just said, ‘In California, you’re not allowed to use the term ‘Doctor,’ and we would have said ‘OK,’” Josh Bigelsen said. “Instead, they took our house and a year of time and money.”
Nonetheless, Josh Bigelsen said he didn’t want people to feel sorry for him or his parents.
“You should feel sorry for the people who can’t get what they need,” he said. “Our clients are the ones who are really hurting.”
To contact Staff Writer Keri Brenner, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4239.