Convicted twice, doctor is denied retrial

February 23, 1994|By Jonathan Bor | Jonathan Bor,Sun Staff Writer

A leading cancer surgeon who was convicted twice of improperly touching a female patient's pubic area has lost his bid for a retrial, prompting him to charge yesterday that the prosecutor and judge were "playing games" with his case.

"They are not seeking justice -- they're just seeking entertainment," said Dr. George Elias, 60, the chief of cancer surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Center. "The whole story from the beginning is just unbelievable."

He vowed to appeal, acknowledging that the legal fight has left him exhausted and disappointed.

"I feel terrible about it. I can't think straight about it now. It's a

terrible blow, an injustice. We have no choice but to go through appeals."

Dr. Elias' battle for a retrial consumed a 10-hour hearing last month and eight volumes of legal motions. Professing his innocence, he blamed his convictions in separate courts on incompetent defense counsel, a rude judge and a prosecutor who strayed from the facts to insert her personal opinions.

The case drew a storm of protest from supportive patients and doctors, who packed the courtroom both days and volunteered to testify as character witnesses for Dr. Elias if he was granted a new trial. But neither their fervor nor the arguments of Dr. Elias' new lawyer, Anton Keating, affected the outcome.

In a one-paragraph decision , Circuit Judge Clifton J. Gordy ruled that the defendant did not deserve a new trial. He gave no reasons.

The judge issued the denial Friday, and it arrived in Mr. Keating's mail yesterday.

The case stems from an otherwise routine office visit in January 1993, when Dr. Elias examined a 31-year-old woman who had complained of breast pain. After the breast examination, she said, he reached beneath her underpants and touched her vagina on the pretext of checking a cluster of suspicious spots on her upper thigh.

Dr. Elias denied the charge, saying he first felt the spots and then examined her groin -- outside her underpants -- to determine whether she had swollen lymph nodes. The doctor said he was concerned that the spots might have resulted from melanoma, a skin cancer that can prove deadly once it spreads to the lymph nodes.

After examining her, he said, he concluded the spots were harmless.

In April, he was tried by District Judge Askew W. Gatewood, who acquitted him of a fourth-degree sexual offense charge but convicted him of misdemeanor battery -- an offensive touching without any sexual motive. The surgeon exercised his automatic right to be retried in Circuit Court, where Judge Gordy convicted him again of battery.

The doctor was fined $5,000.

Dr. Elias discharged his lawyer, Robert Mann, and hired Mr. Keating, who wrote hundreds of pages of legal motions claiming the surgeon deserved yet another trial.

Before the judge's decision, Mr. Mann said he had done a good job defending his client but hoped Dr. Elias would be granted a new trial.

Neither Judge Gordy nor State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms could be reached for comment yesterday.

Calling the court decision "unfortunate," a hospital spokeswoman said yesterday that the ruling would not hinder the doctor's ability to see patients.

"Dr. Elias has been a dedicated physician at our medical center for many years without any similar complaints," said Joan Shnipper, the spokeswoman. "We expect he will continue his research, training, teaching and clinical practice here."

Last fall, a hospital official asked Dr. Elias to withdraw from his practice until legal matters were resolved. He did so until two weeks ago, when he resumed practice to treat a patient whose melanoma had spread.

Dr. Elias operated on the man and has since maintained a busy schedule.

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