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Class-action settlement against former UCLA gynecologist a ‘travesty,’ lawyers say

Three people in business wear walk outside a courthouse
Former UCLA gynecologist Dr. James M. Heaps right, leaves leaves the Airport Courthouse in Los Angeles in 2019.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Attorneys representing hundreds of patients of former UCLA gynecologist Dr. James M. Heaps on Tuesday urged other former patients to opt out of a $73-million class-action settlement before a May 6 deadline.

The critics argue the settlement allows the university to keep secret too many of the sexual abuse allegations and does not hold the institution accountable. Those who back the settlement disagree, calling it fair and transparent.

A federal judge gave preliminary approval to the settlement by the University of California system in which it agreed to pay $73 million to more than 5,500 women who saw Heaps in his decades at UCLA. The university is accused of knowing about numerous prior sex abuse allegations against Heaps before his departure in 2019 and repeatedly allowing him to return to practice despite those reports. Heaps has denied any wrongdoing.

“This settlement allows UCLA to keep its dark secrets,” said John Manly, an attorney representing 135 clients who are among more than 300 accusers of Heaps who have already opted out of the settlement. Manly said the settlement only enriches lawyers and covers up the truth and ensures no UCLA administrators are held accountable.

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Taylor Rayfield, a partner of Manly, said the settlement protects the institution from having to produce witnesses and documents and from allowing survivors to find out who hid evidence and allowed the abuse to continue for so many years. She pointed out that the class settlement provides an average $11,000 payout per person while a recent settlement involving former USC gynecologist Dr. George Tyndall — accused of sexually abusing patients for decades — paid out on average $1.2 million.

Heaps’ former patients must take action to opt out of the settlement by May 6 if they do not wish to be bound by its terms. U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner is set to give final approval July 12.

Under a new state law, former patients of Heaps had until the end of the year to file. The settlement curtails that timeline to next month and covers more than 5,500 women who received treatment from Heaps at various UCLA medical facilities between 1983 and 2018.

Lawyers who crafted the settlement with attorneys for the UC system say it provides serious and meaningful patient treatment reforms. UC regents approved the class-action settlement.

Attorney Jennifer McGrath, who, along with Darren Kavinoky, represents more than 100 former patients of Heaps, called the settlement an “outrageous travesty” and said the university system is trying to game the system and revictimizing the victims. Their clients have also opted out of the settlement.

UCLA eventually removed Heaps and notified law enforcement of the allegations against him on June 14, 2018. In June 2019, he was arrested and charged with multiple counts of sexual battery. After more women came forward after his arrest, additional charges were filed last year.

The 67-year-old doctor has pleaded not guilty to criminal charges that he sexually abused seven patients, and he is awaiting a preliminary hearing.


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