BY TERRI VERMEULEN KEITH | City news service
LOS ANGELES — A jury resumed Friday Friday in the criminal trial on the UCLA campus of a former gynecologist accused of sexually abusing seven patients.
The jury hearing the case against Dr. James Mason received Heaps, returned to a downtown Los Angeles courthouse on Friday morning after a full day of discussions on Thursday.
Heaps, now 65, is on trial on nine counts each of sexual harassment by fraud and penetration of an unconscious person by fraudulent depiction, along with three counts of sexual exploitation of a patient.
The charges stem from alleged crimes between 2009 and 2018.
In her counterargument Wednesday, Assistant District Attorney Rosa Zavala told jurors that Heaps capitalized on his patients’ “vulnerability” and “all those medical needs created an excuse for him to start some kind of procedure that then turns sexual.”
But defense attorney Leonard Levine countered that the evidence showed the tests conducted by his client were “reasonable” and “for a medical purpose.”
In his closing argument, Heaps’ attorney said, “I submit to you…he either did everything or he did nothing. He’s either a doctor out there doing his job or he’s an insane sex monster out there looking for sex whenever he can. Those are your two options, I think.”
The defense attorney told the panel his client was a “doctor who did his job and did his job well,” and said he believed the case involved medical investigations that had been “sexualized” by the patients be.
“You can’t give him back his good name. You have no way of giving him his reputation or[his]job back,” Levine said, adding that the jury could say, “Dr. Heaps, you’re not guilty, you’re not guilty.”
He said he hopes the jury will find Heaps “innocent of those charges” and asked them to return “the verdict of not guilty on all counts.”
In the prosecutor’s final argument, Zavala told the panel, “When these women entered this clinic, they were grateful to be treated by the defendant. … They expected a professional to treat them, but what they got is someone who is a predator.”
The prosecutor said the investigations were “turned sexual based on the defendant’s conduct” in what was “intended for the defendant’s sexual arousal, his pleasure” and that his actions were intended to be “subtle” because he was “not stupid ” be.
“It’s terrible what happened to them. It’s unfair what happened to them and all of it in the hands of the defendant because they were unlucky enough to trust him,” Zavala said.
“But today you have to tell the defendant that he can’t hide behind UCLA, he can’t hide behind that white coat, and he’s guilty of every single charge…” the prosecutor told the jury.
Heaps was a UCLA gynecologist/oncologist for nearly 35 years. At various times, he saw patients at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and in his office at 100 Medical Plaza.
At one time, Heaps was reportedly the highest-paid doctor in the UC system and had treated about 6,000 patients, attorneys said.
More than 500 lawsuits have been filed against Heaps and UCLA, accusing the school of failing to protect patients after becoming aware of the wrongdoing.
In May, attorneys for 312 former Heaps patients announced a $374 million settlement in abuse claims against the University of California.
The settlement comes in addition to a $243.6 million settlement of lawsuits involving about 200 patients announced in February and a $73 million settlement of federal lawsuits reached last year and in which approximately 5,500 plaintiffs were involved.
The lawsuits alleged that UCLA actively and intentionally concealed Heaps’ sexual abuse of patients. UCLA continued to allow Heaps unhindered sexual access to female patients — many of whom were cancer patients — at the university, attorneys for the plaintiffs in the lawsuits alleged.
UCLA issued a statement in May, saying, “This settlement, combined with previous settlements involving other plaintiffs, resolves the vast majority of claims alleging sexual misconduct by James Heaps, a former UCLA medical doctor, reproach.
“The behavior allegedly committed by Heaps is reprehensible and contrary to our values. We are grateful to all those who have come forward and hope this settlement is a step toward some healing for the affected plaintiffs.
“We strive to provide the highest quality of care that respects the dignity of each patient. We are taking all necessary steps to ensure the well-being of our patients in order to maintain public confidence,” the statement continued.
The university outlined a number of measures to strengthen student and patient safety. It also noted that the settlement “will have no impact on UCLA’s teaching, research and service, including patient care, student life and campus activities. It is covered by the system-wide UC insurance and risk finance program. Any additional resources required will be provided by UCLA Health and campus operating income.”
The settlement of the federal case last year required UCLA to ensure stricter oversight procedures for identifying, preventing and reporting sexual misconduct.
The federal lawsuits allege that while patients complained about Heaps years earlier, it wasn’t until late 2017 that allegations of sexual misconduct by the gynecologist were reported to UCLA’s Title IX office and a formal investigation initiated.
Heaps was still allowed to see patients – both during the investigation and after UCLA informed Heaps that his contract would not be renewed after the June 30, 2018 expiration.
UCLA terminated Heaps’ employment and notified law enforcement of the allegations against him on June 14, 2018.
Heaps was arrested in June 2019 and charged with multiple sexual assaults. After his arrest, many more women came forward to report alleged sexual misconduct. In August 2020, Heaps was charged with additional offenses.
In March 2021, in a similar case, USC agreed to pay more than $1.1 billion to former patients of ex-campus gynecologist George Tyndall, the largest sex abuse payout in the history of higher education.
Tyndall — the only full-time gynecologist at the college hospital from 1989 to 2016 — has pleaded not guilty to dozens of sexual assault charges.
https://www.ocregister.com/2022/10/07/jury-to-decide-fate-of-ex-ucla-gynecologist-in-sexual-abuse-case/ Jury decides fate of former UCLA gynecologist in sex abuse case – Orange County Register