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‘He was taking advantage of vulnerable women’: Doctors who sexually abuse patients are routinely reinstated

A close-up of a doctor's stethoscope. in the foreground with a judge's gavel in the background
A Times investigation found that 10 California doctors since 2013 have successfully regained their licenses after losing them for sexual misconduct.
(Zolnierek/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, Dec. 15. I’m Justin Ray.

Warning: This story discusses sexual abuse.

A Times investigation found that 10 California doctors since 2013 have successfully regained their licenses after losing them for sexual misconduct.

The state medical board, which has long battled allegations that it goes easy on bad doctors and fails to protect patients, reinstated more than half of all sex abusers who sought to get their licenses back, a rate significantly higher than for doctors who lost their licenses for all other reasons, a Times review of board data found.

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Any sexual contact with patients violates a physician’s code of ethics as laid out by the American Medical Assn. and violates California law.

Our story, which names some of the doctors, found that the board has wide latitude when considering applications for reinstatement, even in cases of severe misconduct such as physically assaulting patients, sexually abusing minors or lying to police. The reinstatement process focuses on the doctor’s rehabilitation, usually with the testimony of therapists hired by the doctors, and no input from the patients who were harmed.

All the doctors who committed sexual misconduct and got their licenses back provided testimony from therapists who said they were safe to resume practicing, The Times found. They also acknowledged that their accusers had been telling the truth. Most also mentioned receiving spiritual guidance.

Board President Kristina Lawson defended the panel in a recent interview, insisting, “My colleagues on the medical board, 100% of them, are dedicated and committed to protecting California consumers. It’s the No. 1, top-of-mind consideration for all of them in all of the work that they do.”

One particularly shocking case involves a physician who was convicted in 2001 of sexual abuse in New York. He was given a license to practice in 2009 in California after being rejected three times prior, due to his record. What happened next was hard for me to read, to be perfectly honest.

“I don’t know how they can return a license to someone like that,” said one victim. “He was taking advantage of vulnerable women.”

This is a tough story to digest, but it is important to understand the flaws of the state’s medical system. Lawson herself conceded that the board has “room for improvement.”

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.

California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta says the rash of smash-and-grab robberies are rooted in a kind of organized crime. Those dashing into the stores are mostly foot soldiers for others calling the shots from a safe distance. Consequently, Bonta met with big-box retailers, online marketplaces, and law enforcement to discuss retail theft and ways to combat it. The rash of crimes has generated debates not only over how to combat them, but over criminal justice reforms California has undertaken, which some police officials blame for an increase in some crimes. Los Angeles Times

L.A. STORIES

Inside the hunt for a killer who shadowed a homeless camp. Even in Los Angeles County, where hundreds of people are murdered each year, the three killings in a homeless encampment along the banks of Compton Creek stood out. The victims’ fates came to underscore the precarious, dangerous existence of homeless people in the county. Little was known about their killer, other than the fact that he, too, was homeless. Now, through court records and interviews with his attorney, a detective who worked the case and others, a portrait comes into focus of a man submerged in a solitary, paranoid existence, who saw people either as “predators” or “prey.” Los Angeles Times

A faded photo attached to a stick at a memorial where the body of Patricia Loeza, a homeless woman, was found in Compton
A memorial where the body of Patricia Loeza, 26, a homeless woman, was found in Compton.
(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

A Los Angeles County judge upheld assault charges Tuesday against rapper Tory Lanez, who is accused of shooting Megan Thee Stallion in her feet following a dispute in Hollywood last summer. Lanez, whose legal name is Daystar Peterson, seemed to shake his head in disgust several times throughout the 90-minute preliminary hearing, shouting at a detective at one point before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Keith Borjon upheld the assault and weapons possession charges against the 29-year-old. Both Lanez and his defense attorney, Shawn Holley, declined to comment outside the courtroom. Los Angeles Times

More than 60 faculty members at USC have signed an open letter urging the university’s leadership to “publicly and explicitly rebuke” a student for several inflammatory comments she made online earlier in the year, including a tweet saying she wanted to “kill every motherf— Zionist.” In the Dec. 1 letter addressed to USC President Carol Folt, Provost Charles Zukoski and board of trustees chair Rick Caruso, the faculty asked officials to rebuke Yasmeen Mashayekh, a 21-year-old civil engineering student, and “to distance USC from her hateful statements.” On Dec. 3, Folt and Zukoski responded with a letter saying that the matter “has disturbed us deeply as we understand very well the hurtful impact of the statements.” Mashayekh’s supporters are circulating a letter urging university officials to make a statement “that demonstrates support for a student who is currently being disproportionately singled out.” Los Angeles Times

The Twitter app icon on a device screen.
A USC student’s posts on Twitter generated outrage.
(Associated Press)

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco appointed his brother to lead the department’s Thermal Station without consulting with or informing leadership in the cities of La Quinta and Coachella, the Desert Sun reported. In doing so, he violated the agreement outlining how the department provides policing services for those cities. The announcement was made in an internal department memo, which the department declined to release to the public. “I am disappointed that this process was not followed with the recent promotion,” La Quinta City Manager Jon McMillen said. Desert Sun

CRIME AND COURTS

Judge says school can refuse to display menorah symbol at tree-lightning ceremony. A woman wanted to add an inflatable balloon decorated like a menorah to the tree-lighting ceremony at the school her third-grader attended, the but Carmel Unified School District turned her down. A federal judge says the school was within its rights not to include the menorah. Although the after-school festivity centered around a Christmas tree, the Supreme Court has ruled that Christmas trees are no longer purely religious symbols in U.S. society, U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman of San Jose said. The mother, Michele Lyons, and her lawyer said they were bewildered by the events. According to Lyons’ lawsuit, teachers at the school describe Christmas as an “American holiday” and Hanukkah as an “Israeli holiday.” San Francisco Chronicle

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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Couple finds expensive mushrooms. A couple living on California’s Lost Coast found and collected chanterelles — a highly desired edible wild mushroom — across the mountains near Petrolia, a small town about 250 miles north of San Francisco. “We’ve never seen anything like it,” Jordan Anderson told SF GATE. “It felt like we found the best-kept secret in the forest. Bright orange everywhere ... I’d say we got between 200 and 250 pounds between the two of us.” At the grocery store, where chanterelles sell for more than $18 a pound, that many mushrooms would bring in around $4,000. SF GATE

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

Why does California have the highest jobless rate in the country? Roughly 1.4 million are out of work and looking for jobs. In October, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the state recorded a 7.3% unemployment rate, the highest in the country, a distinction California shares with Nevada. October’s national unemployment rate is several points lower, at 4.6%. One contributor to the state’s lagging employment situation is that California’s large leisure and hospitality sector — made up of hotels, restaurants and more — hasn’t rebounded as quickly as the rest of the country’s. This can be linked to lagging international tourism, a large part of the state’s economy. CalMatters

Take a trip through the magnificent department stores of old L.A. For a very long while, “going shopping” in Los Angeles, especially for the holidays, meant putting on real clothes and shoes unsuited to a shower stall, and taking a ride to the showplaces of mercantile Los Angeles. The city has hosted big stores for almost 150 years, through the peak-and-slide fortunes of the vast downtown flagship department stores, through the centrifugal spread of suburban malls, and the invasion of that unsightly moneymaker called the mini-mall — long before there was any internet to go shopping on. The Times’ Patt Morrison takes you on a journey of these stores throughout the city’s history with beautiful vintage photos. Los Angeles Times

Exterior of Hambuger's department store, downtown Los Angeles
Hamburger’s, seen on a postcard from Patt Morrison’s collection, was founded in 1881 and was home to Los Angeles’ public library from 1908 to 1913.

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CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: Overcast, 57 San Diego: Overcast, 59 San Francisco: Wow, this cat is judging that essay so harshly. Rainy, 54 San Jose: Rainy, 55 Fresno: Overcast, 50 Sacramento: Rainy, 50

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory is from Cheryl Hilser:

I grew up in Bell Gardens in the 1970s. My dad worked hard, digging pools for icons from Jerry West to Raymond Burr. Attending Los Angeles Lakers games at the Fabulous Forum was a treat. I thought it was the most beautiful building ever. My favorite Laker was Gail Goodrich. You could park for $5, get a hot dog for $2 and Dad would get a beer for another couple of bucks. It was such great times. Dad has been gone for more than six years now, but I still have great memories of those nights at The Forum.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments to essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.


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