In a setback for prosecutors of former Tustin gynecologist Ivan C. Namihas, a federal judge ruled Monday against permitting any evidence about alleged prior sexual misconduct by Namihas in his trial next week on 10 mail-fraud charges.
Prosecutors said they had wanted to call to the stand at least two women who were expected to testify that between 1981 and 1991, Namihas sexually assaulted them during gynecological examinations, and then billed them for the exams through their insurance companies.
But in a pretrial hearing Monday to decide what evidence will be admissible, U.S. District Judge Linda H. McLaughlin called the potential testimony irrelevant to the charges Namihas faces. She added that the evidence could be too "prejudicial" or could unfairly influence a jury against him.
"It's very clear that this case will be tried on the facts of these allegations and nothing more," defense attorney Paul S. Meyer said. "It would have been totally inappropriate to allow these unrelated materials."
State medical authorities revoked Namihas' license in May, 1992, after the Medical Board of California received more than 100 sexual abuse complaints by the doctor's former patients. No state criminal charges in those cases were filed because the statute of limitations had expired.
Dozens of women complained that Namihas had fondled, masturbated or otherwise sexually abused them as far back as the late 1960s, putting Namihas at the center of the largest medical sexual abuse case in state history.
After the cases were publicized in 1993 on ABC's "PrimeTime Live," federal authorities sought mail-fraud charges against Namihas, accusing him of fraudulently billing six patients and their insurance companies for unnecessary tests and treatments.
The 10-count indictment contends Namihas pressured patients into undergoing expensive, unnecessary and painful laser surgery treatments. In two cases, he is accused of falsely telling women they had cervical cancer and that their lives were in imminent danger. In another, he is accused of falsely informing a woman she had AIDS and cervical cancer.
Prosecutors argued unsuccessfully in recent court documents that the evidence from the two alleged sexual assault victims should be allowed to respond to attempts by the defense to portray Namihas as a good or caring doctor. The assaults would have also offered further evidence of Namihas' intent to defraud his patients, court documents say.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Jonathan Shapiro declined specific comment about the judge's ruling, and would only say: "We are ready to proceed with the evidence that we have."
McLaughlin also ruled out testimony from two other potential witnesses who contend they also were mistreated by Namihas, but who are not participants in the official charges against him. The judge ruled again that their testimony may be "overly prejudicial" to a jury and is likely to essentially repeat the testimony of other victims who are part of the indictment.
One of the potential witnesses, identified as Jeanette J. and a former patient and girlfriend of Namihas in court documents, has told authorities that Namihas once mailed a letter to her employer, the U.S. Air Force, fraudulently claiming that she suffered from mental and physical ailments.
The other witness, identified as Namihas' ex-wife, Elaine C., has told authorities that during a public divorce proceeding in 1990, Namihas falsely told the court that she suffered from a sexually communicable disease and had infected him with it.
Namihas' trial is scheduled to start March 7 in U.S. District Court.