The White Coat Club

Women complain that doctors get away with pretty much anything

It was supposed to be only an evaluation.

Cathryn Blue was being treated under the Texas Division of Workers' Compensation for three herniated disks. In late 2001, her orthopedist referred the 42-year-old to a neurologist for an evaluation to determine the extent of her injuries.

She was referred to Philip Leonard, a well-respected Austin doctor who had been in practice for more than 20 years. What Blue said happened during that visit would change her life, and affect Leonard's practice and reputation over the next five years.

Boling says her complaints about patient exploitation weren't taken seriously.
Daniel Kramer
Boling says her complaints about patient exploitation weren't taken seriously.

According to the civil suit Blue filed in Travis County, Leonard "gave Ms. Blue injections in her back, which she did not want nor consent to. He also pushed forcefully on her lower back and buttocks, causing her such great pain that she cried out. Moreover, he sexually assaulted her while she was lying on her stomach on the table. He rubbed his erect penis against her legs and squeezed her thighs against him as he positioned himself between her legs. He bruised her thighs where he squeezed them."

When Blue complained, the suit alleges, Leonard just patted her behind and said, "Go ahead and get up, you big cry baby."

Blue complained to the Austin police that day. Two days later, the case was assigned to a detective. In her notes from the police report, the detective wrote: "I immediately recognized the suspect's name as a doctor that I had already investigated on a very similar incident."

The investigation led to an arrest, which made the news in Austin, causing more than a dozen women to step forward and accuse Leonard of the same behavior over the previous ten years.

When Blue testified before the Texas Medical Board two years after the alleged abuse, Leonard's attorney asked her about the T-shirt she was wearing.

"What's 'AdvocateWeb'?" the attorney asked, according to the transcripts.

Blue replied: "AdvocateWeb is a place for people that don't feel like they have any hope."

Houstonian Cindy Boling is no fan of what she calls "the white coat club."

She says that in 1999 she was manipulated into an emotionally abusive marriage with her gynecologist, Steven Guilliams. When she finally had the strength to seek a divorce after 18 months, and complain to the Texas Medical Board, she says, she felt that the board was more interested in protecting one of its own than in investigating her claims.

Ultimately, the board found that Guilliams violated the Medical Practices Act by having a relationship with a patient, and he was placed on five years' probation. That order was terminated after about three years.

While Boling was not assaulted, she says she was still a victim of exploitation.

"The patient has no consent," she says, "period. Just like a child."

In fact, she equates a doctor's exploitation of a patient as "tantamount to incest." This led her on a quest to find someone who could help her sort out her pain and confusion. Looking online for any information about her issues, she stumbled upon AdvocateWeb, a nonprofit group formed in 1998 to "promote awareness and understanding of the issues involved in the exploitation of persons by trusted helping professionals."

The Web site provides links to counseling, legal and educational resources for victims of abuse by doctors, therapists, professors, ministers — any professional who has a certain "power" in a special one-on-one relationship.

By 2004, Boling had gone from one of AdvocateWeb's most outspoken supporters to its CEO.

She says the Philip Leonard case is exactly why AdvocateWeb exists.

In all, 17 women complained that Leonard sexually abused them during visits, usually, they alleged, by rubbing his erection on their bottom. Some of the women who subsequently testified before the board committee said they kept going back to Leonard because they were afraid he'd write evaluations that would prevent them from getting the workers' comp coverage they needed.

The hearing was conducted like a trial setting, in which Leonard's lawyer was allowed to cross-examine the women. Much of this process involved asking middle-aged women if they could've mistaken a cell phone or a pager for a stiff penis.

In December 2004, after the hearing, Leonard entered into an agreed order with the board that prohibits him from treating female patients for ten years.

While the board found the women's testimony credible, a Travis County jury acquitted Leonard in a criminal trial stemming from Blue's allegations. Leonard settled a civil suit with another accuser, but has not been convicted of any crimes.

Still, Boling believes Leonard got off easy, as is too often the case. Think Eric Scheffey, she says, the coke-hoovering surgeon with the most malpractice claims in board history, who was allowed to keep practicing even after being implicated in several patient deaths.

"They can victimize patients," she says, "they can be drug addicts and alcoholics, and they can get their little hands slapped. And then, poof...they're back out on the streets, practicing."

Blue has since filed a civil suit against Leonard.

Houston attorney Jay Hirsch, who's representing Leonard, claims Blue is not a credible witness.

"I think she's got a very, very checkered background," Hirsch told the Houston Press, declining to elaborate. (According to one criminal database, Blue was arrested for cocaine possession in 1984, for which she was sentenced to serve 300 hours of community service.)

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