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Hearing Urged After Ruling on UCI Coma Case

September 27, 1997|DAVAN MAHARAJ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — Lt. Gov. Gray Davis on Friday called for a public hearing to discuss an $18.6-million malpractice award to an Orange County woman who slipped into a coma after hand surgery at UCI Medical Center in Orange.

"I am . . . outraged over the seemingly unending hemorrhage of millions of dollars of public funds to clean up and compensate for misconduct by university officials," said Davis, a member of the UC Board of Regents and frequent critic of the university's administration.

"Since 1995, UCI has cost California taxpayers nearly $30 million in . . . payouts relating to the Medical Center alone."

The latest financial blow was delivered earlier this week by Orange County Superior Court Judge C. Robert Jameson, who found the university system had frustrated the court's efforts to find out how 38-year-old Denise DeSoto of Garden Grove was left severely brain damaged and in a coma.

DeSoto had had surgery following a Dec. 6, 1993, traffic accident. She returned to the hospital a week later after complications developed. After 30 minutes in the recovery room, DeSoto turned blue from a lack of oxygen, her attorney said.

The mother of two never regained consciousness and is living in a Santa Ana care center.

Her attorney, Cornelius Bahan, said it took more than three years before university lawyers admitted that an anesthesiologist with little experience was involved in the surgery.

Judge Jameson said he decided to take the extraordinary step of barring university officials from presenting a defense in the case because their conduct was "intentional, despicable and unprofessional."

University officials defend their conduct and plan to appeal the judge's decision.

Davis has called for a public hearing at the Nov. 17 regents meeting, saying he is concerned about efforts to cover up potential wrongdoing.

But Davis noted that the same office approved $1 million in "hush money" to prevent three employees at UC Irvine's Center for Reproductive Health from speaking publicly about the human egg and embryo scandal that erupted there.

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