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Hallowed halls or school for scandal?

February 13, 2007|Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writer

Forget about the steamy scenes in the television shows "Grey's Anatomy" and "ER." In a Los Angeles courtroom this month, allegations began unfolding of sex among residents and doctors in the psychiatry department at UCLA's medical school that rivals anything in those hospital procedurals.

The allegations are part of an unusual sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a male resident against UCLA and a woman who was one of his supervising physicians.

During the trial, jurors will be asked to decide whether the Columbia University-educated doctor and his supervisor had sex (he says they did, she says they didn't); whether the resident lost a coveted post because of it; and whether university officials responded properly.

On the one hand, this is the latest example of employers grappling with the complications of alleged workplace affairs. But this case has a few twists -- among them a male employee who claims his career was hurt because he had sex, not because he refused advances. Another is the spectacle of research psychiatrists forced to discuss their sex lives under oath.

Testimony is expected to be so explosive that one of the parties tried to convince the judge to close the proceedings and seal the records. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Judith Chirlin said no, but ruled some physicians could be referred to in court by code names, a decision legal experts described as unusual.

"I would be concerned about why you would have witnesses in a trial whose identity would be masked in any way," said Kelli Sager, a lawyer who represents The Times and other media companies.

Chirlin acknowledged it was an unusual ruling, but noted that she wanted to protect the privacy of women not involved in the suit who would be forced to reveal intimate details of their sexual histories.

The harassment action was brought by Dr. David Martorano, a former opera singer and the son of a psychiatrist who did his residency at UCLA -- and, according to testimony, found the time to zip around Malibu in a two-seater going on dates and attending a private party thrown by adult entertainment companies.

In his suit, Martorano claims he and his former supervisor, Dr. Heather Krell, had a liaison. He was all set to become chief resident of Krell's clinic. But the job was taken away from him after he broke off the affair, and rumors of it began to circulate, Martorano claims. He also contends that Krell smeared his reputation and painted him as a liar by claiming no affair ever took place.

Krell countersued Martorano for libel and slander. Her lawyer, Donald Garrard, claims Martorano is "obsessed with sex" and that "from the moment he arrived at UCLA, what was most important to him was to be known as a cocksman." Martorano made up the story of sex with Dr. Krell to help him seduce another attending physician at UCLA, Krell's lawyer claimed. Martorano also had an affair with a third psychiatrist in the department. According to court papers, this liaison is not in dispute, and the woman is expected to testify under a code name.

Krell, meanwhile, has filed a separate sexual harassment suit against UCLA, alleging that she was subjected to an onslaught of "sexual comments and sexually degrading and demeaning behavior and gestures" from yet another psychiatrist at UCLA, Dr. Andrew Leuchter. She also claims that department administrators retaliated against her when she complained of the abuse. UCLA disputes the allegations. That case is set to go to trial next fall.

The new allegations come on the heels of a $2.9-million sexual harassment and discrimination verdict against UCLA brought by another psychiatrist in the department.

In the current case, UCLA does not take a position on whether Martorano and Krell had an affair. Attorney Alan Zuckerman told the jury that administrators decided not to let Martorano become chief resident because even the "perception that people are getting chief residencies because they're sleeping with people" is not acceptable.

Zuckerman also told the jury that UCLA tried to resolve the matter so "these two people wouldn't have their careers ruined."

UCLA did launch an internal investigation into whether the affair took place. No final report was issued, but notes from investigator Pamela Thomason with section headers such as "The Sofa" and "Telephone Call to Establish Prowess" suggest the level of intimacy that was plumbed.

The report, which is in the court record but will not be entered at trial, also noted that "persons who worked with Martorano ... report that [he] frequently spent his down time ... talking about his sexual conduct."

So far, only Martorano has taken the stand. Handsome and well-spoken, he occasionally interrupted his own lawyer to ask him to clarify his questions. Other times, sentences flew out of his mouth in such rapid, clause-filled streams that the judge repeatedly ordered him to slow down.

Krell sat in the audience with two female companions. Across the aisle sat a lawyer from the University of California's general counsel's office in Oakland. The lawyer, Michael R. Goldstein, listened as expressionless as an archetypal analyst in the face of testimony about psychiatric residents attending nude Jacuzzi parties at professional retreats and Martorano's alleged sexual acts in cars parked on the side of the road.

The case continues this week and is expected to last into next week.

jessica.garrison@latimes.com

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