Las Vegas Sun

December 1, 2015

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J. Patrick Coolican:

Nevada Medical Board, just whom do you serve?

J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican

Earlier this year, I wrote about Dr. Sean Steele, an internist who was accused of a brutal sexual assault after a night of drinking in Las Vegas.

Steele pleaded no contest to misdemeanor battery.

Steele was licensed in both California and Nevada. The Nevada State Board of Medical Examiners took a “nonpublic action,” a sanction so negligible that it isn’t even revealed to the public.

The Nevada board reasoned that because Steele wasn’t convicted of the the original felony sexual assault charges, there was no reason to take more serious action.

Also, board President Dr. Benjamin Rodriguez told me it was a “he said, she said” situation that had no nexus to the practice of medicine.

The California Medical Board, on the other hand, did its own investigation and concluded that Steele had “brutally sexually attacked” the woman and then lied about it under oath. The board called his behavior “unbecoming to a member in good standing of the medical profession, and which demonstrates an unfitness to practice medicine.”

Here’s a summary — warning, it’s quite graphic — of what Steele did to the woman, according to the California Medical Board: The Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner testified that a pelvic exam was painful for the woman because she had suffered a 1- to 1 1/2-inch laceration to the clitoral hood. In fact, the victim had a clitoral piercing that had been “torn through the skin.” An ornamental silver ball attached to the piercing was missing. The nurse said the resulting “ragged lacerations” were the largest she had seen in roughly 4,000 cases. The ornamental silver ball was later found in Steele’s car by Metro Police.

California revoked his license.

When I raised the discrepancy with the Nevada State Board of Medical Examiners — California revokes license, Nevada does virtually nothing — Douglas Cooper, the executive director, and Rodriguez all but defended Steele and questioned the California decision.

Maybe they were so sympathetic to the doctor because they never interviewed the victim.

Steele appealed the California Medical Board ruling to the state’s Superior Court, asserting, among other claims, that he was denied due process rights because his attorney was absent the day the victim testified and so was unable to cross-examine her.

Judge Timothy Frawley denied the appeal last week. As the court notes, Steele’s attorney never even asked for a continuance. He called just 30 minutes before the hearing was to begin on the day the victim had traveled all the way from Nevada to San Diego to testify. The court noted these rather sketchy circumstances.

Having dealt with this attorney, Russell Iungerich, who missed several phone interviews with me under strange circumstances over the course of weeks, I understand the court’s skepticism.

(Iungerich didn’t reply to an email I sent him Friday.)

Steele also argued in his appeal that his behavior that night isn’t related to his duties as a physician.

Here’s the court’s response: “Petitioner's claim that there is no substantial relationship between a battery conviction and the qualifications, functions, or duties of a physician borders on the absurd and merits little discussion. A conviction for the willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon another is undeniably related to the qualifications, functions, or duties of a physician, particularly where, as here, the battery involved an aggravated sexual assault committed against a vulnerable person trapped in the back seat of her attacker's car.”

Previously, Cooper told me Nevada could still act but that they were awaiting results of the California appeal. But he expressed confidence Steele would prevail.

So, I called him Friday to ask if Nevada would now take action against Steele.

You guessed it: Nope.

Steele’s legal defeat in California — devastating to him in my mind — “is not cause for us to take additional action,” Cooper said. “It’s going to be appealed to the (California) Supreme Court.” He said Team Steele told him they would appeal.

Nevada will take no action until all of Steele’s appeals are exhausted, Cooper said.

Where does it end? I asked him. The U.S. Supreme Court? Will it take Nino Scalia to shush away Steele before Nevada will act?

Cooper put on his legal analyst hat and told me he doesn’t think it will go that far, saying he’s once again confident Steele will win his appeal at the California Supreme Court. “I think he has a good case,” he said.

Well, isn’t that great.

The question for the Nevada State Board of Medical Examiners is this: Do you work for Nevadans or do you work for Dr. Sean Steele, who can only practice in Nevada because we apparently have such low standards of professional conduct?

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