In a case that cost the University of California, Los Angeles hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements and followed similar charges against physicians at other colleges, an obstetrician-gynecologist who worked there for years was convicted of sexually assaulting patients on Thursday.
According to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, a jury in California Superior Court in Los Angeles County convicted Dr. James Heaps, 65, guilty of three charges of sexual battery by deceit and two counts of sexual penetration of an unconscious person.
The sentencing hearing for Dr. Heaps has been set for November 17; he may get a sentence of up to 21 years in prison if found guilty. Claims of sexual misconduct against Dr. Heaps, who worked at U.C.L.A. in different capacities from 1983 to 2018, have already resulted in payments totaling almost $700 million.
As of this writing (March 2019), he faces 21 accusations of sexual misconduct that allegedly occurred between 2009 and 2018.
Three charges of sexual battery by deception, three counts of sexual penetration of an unconscious person, and one case of sexual exploitation of a patient were all dismissed against Dr. Heaps on Thursday, according to the district attorney’s office.
The office said that the jury was unable to reach a judgment on nine charges, including three counts of sexual battery by deception, four counts of sexual penetration of an unconscious person, and two counts of sexual exploitation of a patient.
LA County District Attorney George Gascón released a statement thanking the jury “for bringing some form of responsibility to Dr. Heaps.”
He issued a statement saying, “While we accept the jury’ judgment on the acquitted charges, we are certainly sad.” To ensure that justice is done, I am well aware of the difficulties that arise during cases of this kind.
The office of the district attorney said that a decision about whether or not to retry Dr. Heaps on the charges that resulted in a hung jury had not yet been made. According to Mr. Gascón, “the anguish Dr. Heaps caused on the very individuals he had promised to care for is indescribable.”
More than two hundred women filed civil claims against Dr. Heaps and the University of California, Los Angeles. In a statement, John Manly, one of the women’s attorneys, claimed that the doctor’s culpability “has been thoroughly proved.”
The awful abuse he committed on cancer patients and those who trusted him as their doctor has been revealed, and justice has been done, Mr. Manly said in a statement. He said, “This is all because to our clients and other courageous women who were willing to relive their horrible assault in interviews with law police and as witnesses in court.”
Leonard Levine, who represents Dr. Heaps, did not immediately return a message seeking comment on Thursday.
According to The Los Angeles Times, Mr. Levine said that Dr. Heaps’ examinations were proper since they took place in the presence of female staff members. He said that Dr. Heaps was unfairly portrayed as a monster in the media despite the fact that he was doing life-saving work.
According to a May 2020 U.C.L.A. special committee report that reviewed accusations of sexual misconduct in clinical settings, Dr. Heaps was accused of using a painful vaginal examination technique, touching women inappropriately during exams, touching a patient’s genital piercing unnecessarily, groping patients’ breasts during breast exams, and making inappropriate sexual comments to patients and employees.
On Thursday, U.C.L.A. Health issued a statement saying it appreciated the patients who had come forward. There is no acceptable level of sexual wrongdoing. When it comes to patient care, nothing is more important to us than making sure they are treated with the utmost kindness and consideration and receiving treatment that is up to par in terms of quality.
The institution reports that from about 1983 to 2010, Dr. Heaps worked as a part-time employee at the U.C.L.A. student health clinic, and from 1988 to 2018, he was a member of the medical staff at the Ronald Reagan U.C.L.A. Medical Center.
Sexual misconduct charges against Dr. Heaps surfaced in 2018, prompting U.C.L.A. to suspend him from clinical duties, terminate his employment (followed by an announcement of his retirement), and file reports with the California Medical Board and local authorities, the school stated.
Dr. Heaps was accused of sexual assault by 203 women, and in February, the institution reached a settlement with the accusers for $243 million. More than 5,000 persons who had been Dr. Heaps’ patients since the 1980s were included in the class-action complaint that was settled for $73 million in a deal that became public in November 2020.
To far, 312 women have been awarded a total of $374 million in settlements for complaints that were made public in May. The institution said that a total of $26 million was paid to satisfy 33 individual claims as part of a settlement.
The #MeToo movement helped shine a focus on claims of sexual misconduct by other campus physicians, which coincided with the timing of the charges against Dr. Heaps.