Debra Gough Woodruff, an assistant attorney general and registered nurse who prosecuted doctors for violating medical-care standards, died Friday in an automobile accident. She was 41.
Ms. Woodruff of Lutherville worked in a unit within the state health department that handled matters before the Board of Physician Quality Assurance, the state panel that polices the practice and conduct of doctors in Maryland.
Since joining the five-lawyer unit in 1988, she had prosecuted physicians accused of sexual misconduct, fraud, misprescription of drugs and misuse of medical services.
Colleagues described her as an exceptional lawyer who gained the confidence of victims and the respect of the lawyers who opposed her. She won a state Attorney General's Distinguished Service Award in 1991, an honor reserved for the office's most dedicated lawyers.
"She took the toughest cases and trained all the younger lawyers that came to that unit," said Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. "She was truly the gem of that unit."
Her immediate supervisor, Joseph P. Gill, recalled Ms. Woodruff's professionalism, efficiency and preparedness in handling cases.
"She had a passion for her work, a passion you rarely see among lawyers. It mattered to her what she did," said Mr. Gill, deputy counsel to the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
The accident that took Ms. Woodruff's life occurred when she was driving her secretary, Rosalind Spellman, home from an office retreat at Bon Secours Spiritual Center in Marriottsville. Ms. Woodruff's Honda Accord was hit head-on by a 1991 Geo Prizm. The driver of the Prizm and a passenger also were killed. Ms. Spellman was in fair condition yesterday at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center.
Ms. Woodruff's professionalism in the office was matched by her generosity of spirit, said friends and relatives. She introduced her nieces to the Baltimore Symphony, offered to take an elderly friend to his chemotherapy sessions and encouraged her retired father to volunteer in the state's Consumer Protection Division.
"Debbie was there for everybody," said Sidney Lieberman, a friend.
A native of Baltimore, Ms. Woodruff grew up in Gardenville, the only daughter of John and Mary Gough. She graduated from The Catholic High School of Baltimore in 1972. In 1976, she graduated with honors from the University of Maryland School of Nursing.
For the next three years, she worked as a registered nurse at Maryland General Hospital and Francis Scott Key Medical Center, where she cared for infants with special needs and burn victims.
In 1979, she enrolled in a 50-student prelaw program at the University of South Dakota. After an intensive summer course, she was one of 10 students from the program selected for admission to the law school that fall. She later transferred to the University of Baltimore School of Law and graduated in 1981. She was admitted to the Maryland bar that summer and soon joined the Baltimore state's attorney's office.
There, she prosecuted cases involving juvenile offenders and murder suspects. She and Gary B. M. Woodruff, an assistant public defender, met in the city courthouse and were married in 1985.
She was a former president of the Gaywood Improvement Association.
A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. tomorrow at St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church, 4414 Frankford Ave., Baltimore.
In addition to her husband and parents, she is survived by three brothers, Curtis A. Gough, John E. Gough Jr. and Gerard A. Gough; six nieces and a nephew; all of Baltimore.
Memorial donations may be made to the American Kidney Foundation.