In an unusual disciplinary effort aimed at a physician, the state attorney general’s office is investigating whether a Brentwood orthopedic surgeon recently charged with raping three female patients and sexually assaulting two others is fit to practice medicine, authorities said.
The civil investigation of Dr. Yahya Lavi, 52, is separate from a criminal investigation of Lavi currently under way by the Los Angeles Police Department and district attorney’s office, said Deputy Atty. Gen. Gloria Barrios. Dr. Lavi has said he is not guilty of the criminal charges.
“Generally speaking, you need a very, very strong case to proceed” with such a civil investigation, because of the potential harm it can do to a health-care worker’s reputation, Barrios said. “It is rare.”
At the request of the Medical Board of California, the attorney general’s office “is in the process of investigating the case,” which may lead to the filing of a temporary restraining order.
If a judge grants such a restraining order, Lavi would be immediately barred from practicing medicine pending an administrative hearing on complaints against him.
Vicky Boone, an analyst at the medical board’s enforcement office in Sacramento, said last week that no formal civil charges have been brought against him.
Boone said restraining orders are only sought “when we feel that someone is a danger to the public, when (authorities believe) it is not safe for them to practice.”
Only three such restraining orders were obtained against physicians and surgeons in California in 1988 and just one in 1989, Boone said. Stung by criticism of its enforcement efforts, the medical watchdog agency has sought seven so far this year, Boone said.
Potential civil disciplinary efforts against Lavi could range from probation to permanent revocation of his license, Barrios said.
Joan Jerzak, supervisor of the medical board’s local enforcement unit, said that the agency asked for the investigation of Lavi because it wants to “disallow him from practicing medicine” if he is convicted of the pending criminal charges.
Lavi, through his lawyers, has refused to comment on the civil and criminal investigations. He did not respond to messages left at his office.
Meanwhile, police said last week that their criminal investigation of Lavi is still in progress. Police have issued a request that Lavi’s other patients call authorities at (213) 485-2921 “regarding possible additional victims.”
Lavi, who lives in Brentwood, was arrested at his office, also in Brentwood, on July 12 and charged with 10 felony counts, including sexual battery and rape.
Police said his arrest capped a five-month investigation of complaints by three women ranging in age from 27 to 37, who claimed Lavi assaulted them within the past year. Lavi was charged two weeks later with the sexual battery of two additional women, according to Deputy Dist. Atty. Lydia Bodin.
Bodin, who works in the Sexual Crimes and Child Abuse Division of the district attorney’s office, said the case was unusual. “It is not like a stranger pulling someone off the street,” she said. “These crimes were perpetrated by a professional, which makes it not your usual rape case.”
Investigators said Lavi came to the United States from Iran 10 years ago and has been practicing medicine in California for seven years.
Lavi, who remains free on $500,000 bail pending a Sept. 12 hearing, has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
William T. Graysen, one of Lavi’s lawyers, last month tried to close his arraignment to the press, saying the publicity would adversely affect his client’s successful practice in treating work-related injuries.
Marilyn Bednarski, one of two lawyers who recently replaced Graysen, said she was “not in a position” to comment on the case.
At his first arraignment hearing, Lavi suggested to reporters that the first three alleged victims may have been “disgruntled patients.”
Graysen said Lavi was “adamant that he is innocent” and quoted the doctor as saying the first three alleged victims asked him to falsify state workers’ compensation documents so they “could obtain illegal benefits.”
According to the complaint, two of the women said they were raped after Lavi drugged them during office visits, according to the complaint. One victim said she was raped by Lavi on more than one occasion, including once at gunpoint, it said.
A police report said two of the victims were assaulted at Lavi’s Brentwood clinic at 11633 San Vicente Blvd. and one victim was assaulted at another clinic at 4262 Wilshire Blvd.
In all, Lavi faces a total of 10 felony counts: two each of rape by use of drugs, sexual battery, and penetration by a foreign object; three counts of forcible rape, and one count of forcible oral copulation. If convicted on all charges, he could be sentenced to up to 11 years in prison. He also faces five misdemeanor sexual battery counts.