While Dr. Neil Solomon and his family live on nearly $15,000 a month in proceeds from their retirement savings, his lawyers say that income is shielded by law from the three former patients who have sued him for sexual misconduct.
Dr. Solomon, 61, has offered to set aside $750 a month for five years toward any successful claims against him.
The former patients, who have sued for $140 million, say that's too little, and yesterday the federal trustee assigned to oversee the case in U.S. Bankruptcy Court agreed.
"It seems unconscionable that [Dr. Solomon] has the right to a very substantial stream of income, and can shield that by simply electing not to use that stream of income" to pay the claims against him, trustee Ellen Cosby said.
"We should have the option to draw on those incomes and draw what we feel is appropriate to fund a payment plan we feel is appropriate," she said.
Ms. Cosby urged Judge E. Stephen Derby to consider tapping the income Dr. Solomon is using to pay his bills, as well as the income he will receive when he begins to take distributions from his Individual Retirement Accounts, which total $1.3 million.
Alan M. Grochal, Dr. Solomon's attorney, said yesterday that while his plan for compensating the former patients "may offend their sense of fairness, . . . there is no legal basis" for permitting them to tap into his retirement income.
Dr. Solomon, a former state health secretary, diet book author and nationally syndicated columnist, filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection last fall after three former patients sued him in Baltimore Circuit Court for luring them into sex while under his care.
On Oct. 27, a state panel permanently revoked Dr. Solomon's medical license after he admitted having sex with at least eight patients over the past 20 years.
The former patients' suits in Circuit Court were automatically suspended when Dr. Solomon filed for bankruptcy protection. The move allowed him to shield his wealth because nearly all of it is held in retirement accounts or in assets jointly held with his wife, which lie beyond the reach of creditors.
In a financial statement filed with the court in October, Dr. Solomon listed his monthly income as $15,446.
Now that Dr. Solomon is no longer practicing medicine, his family income consists of $2,146 a month from his state pension and $1,100 a month in interest and dividends, according to Mr. Grochal.
Dr. Solomon also is drawing income from an account held with his wife, Frema. In their statement, the Solomons listed $228,000 in money market funds.
Mr. Grochal said that forcing debtors to tap their retirement income to pay claims is no different from compelling them to liquidate retirement nest eggs, which are supposed to be off-limits to creditors.
Edward C. Dolan, an attorney for the former patients, said after the hearing that the law requires payment plans to meet a "good faith" test. He added that Dr. Solomon's plan "makes a mockery of the good faith standard."
He said Dr. Solomon "nailed open" the door to all of his retirement income when he included his $2,146 monthly state pension checks among the income he would use to make the $750 monthly payments.
Judge Derby yesterday scheduled a March 11 hearing to rule on the issue and to hear arguments on other motions.
He set a May 19 hearing for arguments by the former patients' attorneys that Dr. Solomon put too much money into his retirement accounts, and that the excess should be used to pay claims against him.