The White Coat Club
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.
Allegedly exploitative doctors
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.)
Hirsch also says he has no idea why 17 women came forth with nearly identical allegations, nor does he know why the Texas Division of Workers' Compensation removed Leonard from its approved doctors list. He also was unaware of the Austin Police Department's 2001-02 reports on Leonard, which detail a planned sting operation the police wanted to conduct in cooperation with the Division of Workers' Compensation.
A detective handling Blue's case wanted to arrange for a female undercover police officer to visit Leonard. In the supplemental report, the detective notes a conversation he had with Elliott Flood, director of DWC's fraud unit.
The notes state: "[Elliott] asked for the name of the suspect doctor. I was hesitant to give it, but I did. Elliott was aware of Dr. Leonard. He state[d] that they have looked into his billing methods on several occasions."
The notes go on to state that Flood provided the detective with a list of Leonard's patients who would be "good candidates to contact for interviews." The detective took their written statements. The report does not explain why the sting was never performed.
To help Blue in her civil suit, Boling arranged for her to be represented by Stanley Spero, a Massachusetts-based lawyer who specializes in exploitation cases.
"Physicians, mental health workers, anybody who gets involved in this kind of work, they can identify people who are very, very vulnerable, and they take advantage of these vulnerabilities...Cathryn Blue was there for simply a consult. That's all she was there for. And look at the life that took on."
As for Boling, she says she was gradually able to put her life back together after her divorce. She still feels she was re-victimized by the Texas Medical Board, which is why she feels so strongly about Blue's case. She says a civil victory might send a message to the board that all accusers need to be taken seriously -- a different dynamic than when she brought the complaint about her husband to the board.
"He was protected," she says. "I was punished."
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