A prominent Baltimore surgeon has been convicted of fondling a patient during an examination.
But Dr. E. George Elias -- a professor and director of surgical oncology at the University of Maryland Medical Center and president of the Maryland Chapter of the American College of Surgeons -- strongly declared his innocence last night.
"It was a completely unfair trial," said Dr. Elias, who could lose his license because of the misdemeanor battery conviction. "I explained it twice, and twice they found me guilty. What am I going to do?"
City State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms said the guilty finding against Dr. Elias "sends a message to any medical professional" that criminal conduct by a doctor will be prosecuted, provided an abused patient has the courage to come forward.
Dr. Elias said the Jan. 5 examination involved a social worker employed at the University of Maryland Medical Center. He was found guilty of misdemeanor battery last April in District Court, but acquitted of sexual assault. Under the "de novo" provision, which entitles people convicted in District Court to an automatic new trial in Circuit Court, Judge Clifton J. Gordy Jr. yesterday found the doctor guilty and fined him $5,000.
Mr. Simms said last night that Dr. Elias was charged after the victim went to a District Court commissioner and swore out a warrant against the physician.
Dr. Elias said the woman came to him for a breast examination. As he was examining her, he said, she asked him to check a white spot on her thigh. He said he asked her to remove her pantyhose so he could see the spot better, but that she kept her underwear on during the exam. He said he examined only her thigh and her groin, but not her vagina.
"I explained to the judge again and again that there is a difference between the vagina and the groin," Dr. Elias said.
Assistant State's Attorney Videtta Brown said that the woman testified that during the breast exam, she told Dr. Elias that she suffered from lupus and he wanted to know how it had been diagnosed. The prosecutor said the woman told of several symptoms, including the spot on her leg. Ms. Brown said the woman testified the doctor merely glanced at the spot and continued with the breast examination.
The woman had her hands behind her head, "and his hands went into the side of her underpants, and into the labia of her vagina," Ms. Brown said. "He said he was checking for a condition called melanoma. And the judge didn't believe it."
Dr. Elias said that he fears the conviction will ruin his reputation and his practice.
"I did my job; she asked me," he said. "I've been in the university for 18 years for God's sake. I see about 2,000 patients a year and it never happened to me before. . . . I don't know what they are seeking."
He said he is concerned about possible censure or the taking of his license by the state Board of Physician Quality Assurance. Last month, the board permanently stripped Dr. Neil Solomon of his license after he admitted to having sex with patients.
"They're going to ruin my future because I'm examining a patient," Dr. Elias said. "If I examine the patient, it is battery. If I don't examine the patient, they sue me for malpractice."
J. Michael Compton, executive director of the state board, said the board will most likely review Dr. Elias' case, and could ultimately decide to revoke his license.
"In a case like this, that is a possibility," Mr. Compton said. "The board looks very unfavorably on any kind of sexual misconduct and has a very strong record about it."
Dr. Elias said he has received the support of his colleagues, three of whom -- Dr. Martin Middleton, Dr. Harold Ramsey and Dr. Richard Hirata -- were in the courtroom yesterday. Dr. Elias' lawyer, Robert Mann, said he will ask Judge Gordy to reconsider his decision. If unsuccessful, he will appeal the conviction to the Court of Special Appeals.
"He's taught thousands of students how to properly conduct physical examinations and how to treat patients," Mr. Mann said. "He's a caring individual, well respected by his colleagues, well loved by his patients. He's had tens of thousands of patients, 70 percent of whom are women and he's had no complaints whatsoever for inappropriate behavior.
"What this case involved was simply a misunderstanding on the part of the patient as to the very careful medical attention that she was receiving from an internationally renowned and respected surgical oncologist."