A former North Hollywood doctor--the first in California to have his medical license revoked for AIDS quackery--has filed for bankruptcy, a move that halts a series of lawsuits against him by ex-patients.
State medical authorities canceled Valentine G. Birds' license last year for helping AIDS patients inject themselves with an illegal AIDS drug called Viroxan, developed by a former Orange County doctor in his pool house kitchen.
Raymond L. Henke, a West Hollywood lawyer representing nine of Birds' former patients who are suing their former doctor for negligence and fraud, angrily charged Wednesday that the bankruptcy was intended to delay court action until the patients die, rendering their lawsuits moot. The patients are all seriously ill with AIDS.
"I think it's utterly cynical. I think it's in bad faith. They are trying to deprive my clients of their right to trial by delaying their day in court until they're dead," he said.
Birds' lawyer, Robert N. Adlen of Sherman Oaks, denied that the bankruptcy filing was aimed at slowing down the suits against Birds. The suits, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, can be redrafted and filed in federal court, Adlen said.
"It's always a little extra work for the attorney, but I don't see any extra burden" on the plaintiffs, he said.
Birds and his wife, Marilyn, filed papers in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Los Angeles on May 15 seeking protection from their creditors. Those who file for bankruptcy in federal court are protected from civil suits seeking damages in state courts, such as Superior Court, at least until the bankruptcy is resolved.
Birds lost his license after he ordered catheters surgically implanted in the chests of seven AIDS sufferers so they could inject themselves with Viroxan, which has not been approved by government regulators and which medical authorities say apparently has no medical value.
Four patients died shortly after receiving Viroxan and some developed severe infections as a result of the catheters. Authorities said they could not directly link Viroxan to the deaths.
But they said at least two deaths were hastened by the treatment, and they accused Birds and the former Orange County physician, Stephen D. Herman, of using patients as guinea pigs. Herman surrendered his license last year rather than face state charges of gross negligence, incompetence and dishonesty. He has since moved to Florida.
Investigators said Birds lied to hospital officials about the purpose of the catheter implants, failed to properly monitor patients for infection and other adverse reaction to the surgeries, and failed to consider effective AIDS treatments.
Adlen said the main reason Birds filed for bankruptcy is that he "lost his license, he can't make a living." He added that Birds has "hundreds of creditors."
Adlen said that the switch may even hasten trial, arguing that the suits could have taken five years to come to trial in Superior Court, but may be tried in as little as six months under swifter federal procedures.
But Henke scoffed at that, saying the federal bankruptcy judge is unlikely to ever hold a trial. He said a Superior Court judge recently set Aug. 10 as the trial date after doctors for the AIDS patients testified that they may die soon.
Several plaintiffs are in extremely poor health, Henke said, and may die within weeks or months. He said one, Rudolph Laubscher, an actor and host of a cable-TV interview show, has died since the suits were filed last year.
Henke said he visited Laubscher the day before he died at Century City Hospital, and he was still interested in the progress of the court action. "He looked up at me, naked and lying in the fetal position, . . . and he was still interested in seeing justice achieved in this lawsuit," Henke said.
Since Birds filed for bankruptcy, said Henke, two other defendants--a surgeon who implanted the catheters and a North Hollywood hospital where the operations were performed--have asked the Superior Court judge to delay the actions against them until the bankruptcy case is settled.