D.A. Won't Charge HIV Skeptic

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office said Friday that it would not file criminal neglect charges against prominent HIV skeptic Christine Maggiore, whose daughter died last year of what the county coroner ruled was AIDS-related pneumonia.

But in a separate development, the Medical Board of California filed an accusation this week against one of the 3-year-old girl's doctors, citing gross negligence in his treatment of her.

Los Angeles police had been investigating whether Maggiore and her husband, Robin Scovill, were negligent in not testing or treating Eliza Jane Scovill for human immunodeficiency virus prior to her May 2005 death.

Maggiore, who is HIV-positive, has said that she did not take antiviral medications during her pregnancy and that she did not have her daughter tested for the virus after birth.

In a one-page document made public Friday, Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley's office said it didn't have sufficient evidence to proceed against Maggiore, 50, or Scovill, 37.

"We are all oftentimes moved by our own sense of what's right and what's wrong, but we are governed by the law," said Victoria Adams, head deputy of the office's family violence division.

The medical board's own investigation led to an accusation filed Wednesday against Dr. Paul Fleiss, a popular if sometimes unconventional Los Feliz pediatrician. The agency says Fleiss did not take steps to ensure that Eliza Jane was tested for HIV or, alternatively, note in her chart that her parents had refused testing.

Fleiss also did not offer to treat the girl with antiviral therapy to reduce the risk that the virus would be transmitted through breast milk or recommend that Maggiore stop breast-feeding while the child's HIV status was unknown.

The medical board also cited Fleiss' care of another child who is HIV-positive in seeking the revocation or suspension of his medical license.

Fleiss gained some publicity in the 1990s as the father of Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss. He was sentenced to three years' probation for conspiring to shield the profits of his daughter's call-girl ring from the Internal Revenue Service, among other things.

Fleiss was out of the office Friday and could not be reached for comment. He told The Times last year that he could not understand why Eliza Jane died and that he had never seen her seriously ill.

"I don't believe I could have done anything to change this outcome," he said. Fleiss said he could be "convinced either way" on whether HIV causes AIDS.

The medical board has closed its inquiry into two other doctors who treated Eliza Jane for a possible ear infection: Santa Monica pediatrician Jay Gordon and Denver physician Philip Incao, who was visiting Los Angeles for a lecture and examined the girl in the days before her death.

Gordon told The Times last year that he should have demanded that Eliza Jane be tested for HIV when Maggiore brought her in 11 days before she died.

"It's possible that the whole situation could have been changed if one of the doctors involved -- one of the three doctors involved -- had intervened," Gordon said then. "It's hindsight, Monday-morning quarterbacking -- whatever you want to call it. Do I think I'm blameless in this? No, I'm not blameless."

Adams, of the district attorney's office, said it would have been difficult to prove that the parents were criminally negligent because Maggiore had sought medical advice when Eliza Jane became ill and appeared to follow that advice.

"The legal theory was just not there," she said.

Maggiore said Friday that she learned about the district attorney's decision when contacted by a reporter from The Times.

"My heart is still beating from when you called," she said. "There's been this tremendous cloud of suspicion and allegation and suggestion always lurking somewhere but never overt.... It's never very far out of my mind."

Maggiore is founder of Alive & Well AIDS Alternatives, a nonprofit that challenges "common assumptions" about AIDS. Her group's website and toll-free hotline cater to expectant HIVpositive mothers who shun AIDS medications, want to breast-feed their babies and seek to meet others of like mind.

She also has written a book on the subject, titled "What if Everything You Thought You Knew About AIDS Was Wrong?"

Maggiore said the evidence from the coroner's autopsy does not support the conclusion that Eliza Jane died of AIDS. A toxicologist she commissioned to review the death attributed it to antibiotic poisoning. She said the coroner's office has refused her request for the laboratory evidence collected during the autopsy.

The coroner's office stands by its findings, Capt. Ed Winter said Friday.

He declined to comment further, citing a claim for damages filed against the county in March by Maggiore and Scovill.

The county Department of Children and Family Services last year investigated whether Maggiore and Scovill should keep custody of their other child, Charlie, now 9.

The agency closed its investigation after reviewing test results from three labs showing that he did not have HIV.


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