Dr. Neil Solomon, the former state health secretary who lost his medical license after admitting to sexual liaisons with female patients, successfully shielded his fortune yesterday from three women who claimed he seduced them while they were under his care.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge E. Stephen Derby approved Dr. Solomon's bankruptcy plan, which will pay out $70,000 over the next five years to the women who were plaintiffs in civil suits against him.
After legal fees, the women will wind up with about $16,000 apiece.
A one-time gubernatorial hopeful, author and nationally known diet guru, Dr. Solomon is worth an estimated $2 million.
An attorney for the women said yesterday that she was disappointed by the way the case turned out.
But after losing a court fight to gain access to Dr. Solomon's millions -- much of it tied up in retirement accounts that are off-limits from court claims -- the women decided against challenging the plan filed in federal court in Baltimore.
"It's not something they agreed to. They just decided not to object," said Joanne L. Suder, the attorney for the women.
"Obviously, we're disappointed he utilized the bankruptcy courts to shield himself from liability. It's just a very difficult situation."
Dr. Solomon, 64, said yesterday he has suffered long enough.
"While I'm innocent of any sexual abuse allegations, this is a hollow victory," he said from his home in Mount Washington, where he lives with his wife of 40 years.
"Three women tried to use the media to destroy me and hurt my reputation. But in the end, they will have to answer to a higher authority."
Dr. Solomon's lawyers said their client did not admit to any wrongdoing by agreeing to the payment plan and closing out $160 million in lawsuits that have been pending in circuit court for nearly three years.
Legal defense fees could have cost him as much as $250,000.
"We have not conceded the facts in the claims," defense attorney Alan M. Grochal said yesterday.
"But the question is, 'If we won, what do we win?' He just wants to put this behind him and get on with his life."
The case dates to August 1993, when one of Dr. Solomon's former patients filed suit in Baltimore Circuit Court.
The woman, whose name was shielded by a court order, claimed that he forced her to take vials of mind-altering drugs and persuaded her to engage in unprotected sex after he began treating her for an unspecified condition in 1988.
The woman also alleged that Dr. Solomon asked her during therapy sessions to "perform grossly deviant and offensive sexual practices," according to court papers.
At the time, Dr. Solomon was writing a syndicated medical column that appeared in newspapers around the nation, including The Evening Sun.
He was also running a private practice in Towson that specialized in hormonal disorders while chairing statewide commissions on AIDS, health care reform and drug and alcohol abuse.
He had also announced that he was exploring a possible run for governor in the 1994 election.
Dr. Solomon suggested that the allegations were filed to derail his gubernatorial bid, and he likened the suit to extortion by a "disturbed" person.
He issued sweeping denials and labeled the sex claims "ludicrous and outrageous."
But a week after the first suit, a second suit was filed by another former patient.
She made similar claims, saying her sexual encounters with the doctor began after he invited her to become a patient.
A third suit quickly followed.
In that case, a former patient said Dr. Solomon "wrongfully began to exploit and manipulate" her for "deviant sexual, prurient and emotional satisfaction" after she sought medical care for an unspecified condition in the late 1980s, according to court records.
She said she suffered "permanent mental anguish" and psychological damage.
In September 1993, Dr. Solomon filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection. That filing blocked the claims from proceeding in circuit court.
Paperwork filed in the bankruptcy case revealed that Dr. Solomon held most of his $2 million in assets either jointly with his wife or in retirement accounts.
An appellate court later ruled that those assets were beyond the reach of the doctor's former patients.
In October 1993, Dr. Solomon was stripped of his medical license after admitting having sex with at least eight patients during the previous 20 years.
In an unusually harsh action, the state Board of Physician Quality Assurance ruled that if Dr. Solomon tried to regain his license anywhere, or publicly denied his "unprofessional sexual conduct," the board would release the findings of its 2 1/2 -month investigation -- including details that remain confidential to this day.
In a five-page letter to the board, Dr. Solomon admitted that he used his "position as physician" for a wide range of sexual relationships.
"This conduct included acts of sexual intercourse, as well as other explicit sex acts," he wrote. "These activities took place in my medical office during patient visits, as well as in other locations."
He further admitted that the sexual activity violated the sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship and that he exploited his patients' trust.
Dr. Solomon said last night his conscience is clear.
"I never sexually abused anyone," he said.
"I know what I did. I had consensual sex with people in the past, and some of them happened to be my patients."