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Prominent Charlotte eye doctor says his practice owes millions, has $83 in checking

Jonathan Christenbury performs eye surgery on a patient in 2003. After a tumultuous year of personal and professional scandals in which the Charlotte eye surgeon lost his medical license for drug use and faced multiple sexual-harassment lawsuits, Christenbury Eye Center filed for bankruptcy protection on Tuesday.
Jonathan Christenbury performs eye surgery on a patient in 2003. After a tumultuous year of personal and professional scandals in which the Charlotte eye surgeon lost his medical license for drug use and faced multiple sexual-harassment lawsuits, Christenbury Eye Center filed for bankruptcy protection on Tuesday. Observer file

Jonathan Christenbury’s 30-year-old medical practice, which helped introduce Lasik eye surgery to Charlotte, had $83.27 in its checking account on Tuesday, new court documents show.

That day, Christenbury Eye Center filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection, claiming it has up to $10 million in debts and no more than $50,000 in assets to meet them.

The filing caps off a catastrophic year for Christenbury, a one-time prominent medical figure in Charlotte who has been the subject of multiple sexual-harassment complaints and was forced to give up his medical license last year after he tested positive for cocaine, the Observer has reported.

This month, Christenbury fired back in court, arguing in a lawsuit that the accrediting N.C. Medical Board lacks the authority to further investigate or discipline him since he surrendered his license on Nov. 29.

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In its 78-page bankruptcy filing, Christenbury Eye Center estimates it has between 100 and 200 creditors, including banks, law firms, medical suppliers, former employees, businesses and individuals. What Christenbury owes them is unclear. The filing lists most of the creditors with an “unknown” amount of claims against the company.

Christenbury’s bankruptcy documents also includes the pending sexual harassment and wage-and-hour lawsuits filed against him by former employees.

Those include two complaints from one-time members of the Honey Bees, the dance troupe for the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets, whom Christenbury hired to work at his office. The women say they were routinely harassed by Christenbury and eventually fired after they refused his sexual propositions. A third female employee, a married mother of two, lodged similar allegations in a complaint that Christenbury settled in January.

Another group of former workers claims in a separate, pending lawsuit that Christenbury improperly reduced their pay and withheld bonuses.

The harassment allegations were included in the medical board’s demand last year for Christenbury to give up his license. So were allegations of drug use. According to the board, Christenbury tested positive for cocaine during a November drug screening.

In October, a member of Christenbury’s staff said the surgeon reported to work in October with slurred speech and was unable to walk in a straight line, the medical board said. That same day, a patient asked for another doctor when Christenbury tried to operate on the same eye twice.

According to the board, Christenbury said he ingested cocaine in October while battling depression. Citing health problems, he closed his practice in November after losing his license and filed for personal bankruptcy two months later, the Observer has reported.

Christenbury was scheduled to appear before the medical board in June to address the claims of drug use and sexual harassment. In June, the medical board dismissed Christenbury’s motion to drop his case and rescheduled his hearing for October. On Aug. 3, Christenbury sued the board in the Wake County courts. In that complaint, Christenbury denied sexually harassing his former employees and accuses the medical board of pursuing “different and expanded charges” than what it first filed against him.

Charlotte lawyer Meg Maloney, who represented Christenbury’s former employees in their harassment complaints, said Wednesday the surgeon’s recent court filings are “just another part of his legal games.”

“Everything is a game, and he thinks he’s above the law,” she said.

Chapter 7 is considered the simplest form of federal bankruptcy protection. Under it, the court appoints a trustee to pore through the filing business’s books, then, if necessary, to sell off assets to pay creditors.

Christenbury’s bankruptcy attorney, Terry Duncan of Charlotte, said Wednesday that he had no comment.

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Michael Gordon: 704-358-5095; @MikeGordonOBS
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