The Maryland Board of Physician Quality Assurance is aggressively investigating Dr. Neil Solomon, who has been accused in three lawsuits of improper sexual relationships with his patients, a source close to the investigation said yesterday.
The investigation was described as "very active" by the source, who asked to remain anonymous.
Dr. Solomon on Wednesday said he had surrendered his medical license to the board. But the license remained valid yesterday, said J. Michael Compton, executive director of the board. Mr. Compton declined to release other details about Dr. Solomon's license or its status.
However, he said that a physician cannot unilaterally surrender a license. The board must approve the termination of a license and may require conditions such as an admission of allegations.
The most common reason that a physician attempts to surrender a license is to pre-empt the board from suspending it.
"All the investigation stops" if the board accepts a surrender, Mr. Compton said.
Area lawyers said yesterday that Dr. Solomon's offer to surrender his license -- as well as his filing for bankruptcy -- might allow him to duck scrutiny over the highly publicized charges of professional misconduct.
However, the board could pursue its investigation and make the results public. And, although the bankruptcy temporarily halts the lawsuits, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge E. Stephen Derby could choose to let them proceed in Baltimore Circuit Court.
Dr. Solomon, 61, has strongly disputed the claims of the three former patients who are suing him for alleged sexual improprieties. The names of the patients are sealed.
His lawyer, E. Dale Adkins III, could not be reached for comment yesterday. Mr. Adkins has advised Dr. Solomon not to talk to the press. Lawyers at Tydings & Rosenberg, the law firm handling the bankruptcy, referred calls to Mr. Adkins.
"By filing for bankruptcy, he is trying to make himself appear to be a victim," said Joanne L. Suder, the lawyer representing the three women. "He doesn't want to face the evidence against him in court."
The cases are under an automatic stay and cannot resume without Bankruptcy Court approval.
In bankruptcy papers filed this week, Dr. Solomon estimated that his assets total between $1 million and $9.9 million, with the same amount of liabilities.
Area bankruptcy lawyers said that Dr. Solomon has armed himself by filing under Chapter 13 of the bankruptcy code, which, among other things, protects a debtor against claims of intentional injury.
In a statement Wednesday, Mr. Adkins said: "Dr. Solomon does not have substantial assets either to pay lawyers, to pay court reporters or, in the unlikely event these cases were lost, to pay the $140 million or so that the plaintiffs have requested.
"He also doesn't have the psychological assets to endure different releases and motions being filed each week, and, accordingly, on Monday afternoon, his bankruptcy counsel -- in conjunction with me -- filed a petition for bankruptcy protection."
Dr. Solomon's lawyers may think that the women's complaints will define his conduct as willful and malicious, said Charles Shafer, a University of Baltimore law professor.
"Why spend the money defending himself in court or face the humiliation of going to court if he can wrap it up this way?" he said, referring to a potential settlement in the quiet confines of bankruptcy court.
Joel Sher, president of the Baltimore chapter of the Maryland Bankruptcy Bar, said it is not out of the question that the three cases will be allowed to continue in Circuit Court.
But he said that Dr. Solomon is likely to argue that they remain in Bankruptcy Court because he can't afford to pay lawyers for an extensive trial. "It's a tough call, a calculated gamble," he said. "But he could avoid the whole public deal."
In a statement Wednesday, Dr. Solomon said he had been forced into bankruptcy by the lawsuits, which were filed in July and August.
He blamed "anonymous women" for "a number of false allegations" and said the bankruptcy action was taken to protect his family.
Dr. Solomon said he felt that the plaintiffs would continue to try the cases "in the press. Under such circumstances, I cannot possibly hope to win the battle and it is equally unrealistic that I continue to practice medicine."
Ms. Suder yesterday criticized Dr. Solomon for describing the women as "phantom accusers." She said that "he knows who they are and he knows the allegations are all true."
In motions requesting that the court withhold the names of the plaintiffs, Ms. Suder wrote that public disclosure of their identities would cause them "further permanent and severe humiliation, embarrassment and emotional suffering."
Dr. Solomon has a private practice in Towson specializing in weight control, allergies, fitness and smoking cessation. His syndicated column is distributed by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate and appears weekly in The Evening Sun.
CHRONOLOGY OF DR. NEIL SOLOMON'S WOES