Judge Rejects Halfway House for Neurosurgeon

Times Staff Writer

A Superior Court judge Friday denied a defense attorney's request to allow a Studio City neurosurgeon convicted in the drug overdose death of his addict wife to serve six months in a halfway house instead of County Jail.

But Judge Robert Fainer delayed imposition of the jail sentence until June 2 so that Dr. Stephen M. Levine can be evaluated by the Los Angeles County Probation Department for eligibility in a jail work-furlough program.

If accepted for that program, Levine would be allowed to leave the jail during the day to work but would be required to return to his cell at night.

Fainer said he would recommend that the neurosurgeon be housed at the Biscailuz Center in East Los Angeles, a county facility for work-furlough inmates.

Levine was originally charged with one count of murder and 44 felony counts of illegally prescribing Demerol, a painkiller, leading to the death of his wife, Myrna, 32, at the couple's Tarzana home in 1984. But, in a March 6 plea bargain that avoided a state prison term, Levine was allowed to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter.

Levine's brother, Dr. David Levine, 43, an orthopedic surgeon who pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact in Myrna Levine's death, was sentenced to one year's probation, fined $2,500 and ordered to perform 200 hours of community service. David Levine had signed Myrna Levine's death certificate, listing the cause of death as cardiac arrest.

Besides the jail time, Stephen Levine was sentenced by Fainer on April 25 to five years' probation and ordered to perform 2,000 hours of community medical service. Fainer has twice delayed imposition of the sentence.

Levine's attorney, Gerson S. Horn, argued that Levine should be allowed to serve his sentence in a halfway house "out of consideration for Dr. Levine, out of consideration for his children, out of consideration for a life of good deeds."

If permitted to enter such a facility, Levine could continue to do volunteer work at two medical clinics, he said. Horn said Levine began working at the clinics after his conviction.

Dr. Frank Williams, director of family and child psychiatry at the Thalians Mental Health Center, testified that Levine's daughters, Danielle, 5, and Gabrielle, 4, "will fall apart psychologically if they are separated from their father."

"The father-children bond is one of the closest I've seen. . . . He has been both a mother and a father to them," said Williams, a child psychiatrist who examined the children and testified on Levine's behalf.

Under questioning from Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert Dawson, Williams said the children have not been told that their father was legally responsible for the death of their mother. The information was "appropriately withheld," he said.

Fainer noted that Levine has lost his medical malpractice insurance and said the halfway houses might incur financial liability if Levine is allowed to practice medicine. He is also under investigation by the California Board of Medical Quality Assurance.

The brothers, who both live in Studio City, were partners in an industrial medical clinic in Chatsworth. They have a private practice in Los Angeles together, and Stephen Levine has another office in Beverly Hills.

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