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Jury finds no harassment against ex-UCLA staffer

Panel rejects claim filed by a former psychiatric resident against the university and his boss. Jurors find supervisor was not slandered.

February 23, 2007|Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writer

A Los Angeles jury Thursday found that UCLA's psychiatry department did not sexually harass a former resident who alleged that he lost a coveted job because he had an affair with his supervisor.

But the jurors also did not believe the supervisor's assertion that Dr. David Martorano slandered her by making up the affair, which Martorano testified included oral sex in parked cars. The supervisor denies it.

Martorano brought the suit, alleging that after he broke off an affair with the supervisor, Dr. Heather Krell, and rumors of it began to circulate, UCLA took away the job of chief resident, which had been promised him.

He also said Krell damaged his reputation by accusing him of making up their affair. Krell countersued for invasion of privacy and slander.

In the end, neither party was awarded any money after a two-week courtroom drama that included the appearance of no fewer than nine psychiatrists, along with women testifying about their sex lives under code names to protect their privacy.

Some jurors said the testimony, which was so graphic that it sometimes caused even the judge to grimace, made them uncomfortable. But they waded through it anyway, and many said that they became convinced that Krell and Martorano had had an affair.

"I think they started off willingly, both of them," juror Ruven Domenech said. But then, he said, when they got caught in the affair, which violated UCLA's policies, Krell lied about it.

Still, Domenech said, that did not constitute sexual harassment. By a vote of 10 to 2, the jury agreed.

The jurors were unanimous in their conclusion that Krell had not been slandered.

All of the parties found something to like about the verdict.

"I'm so happy," Krell said. "I'm glad I'm vindicated after all this."

UCLA officials said they were pleased, although in a statement they said it was "unfortunate" that they had to go to a courtroom to "defend our actions against baseless accusations."

And Martorano's lawyer, Steven Pingel, said jurors had vindicated his client's claim that he had not lied about his affair with Krell, something Martorano had been seeking for years. Still, they expressed some disappointment that the jury had not found evidence of sexual harassment.

In his closing argument, UCLA's lawyer, Alan Zuckerman, devoted nearly an hour to laying out a point-by-point analysis of flaws in Martorano's character. He accused the psychiatrist of bringing the suit because he has narcissistic personality disorder and could not handle that Krell would not admit they had had an affair.

But Martorano disputed that. "I did this because I believe it was the right thing," he said, adding that he believes UCLA did not treat him fairly when the job of chief resident was taken away from him.

As to the things that were said about him during the trial, Martorano, now in private practice in Malibu, said: "I've been through a lot of training, and I know who I am."

Maybe it was the intimate nature of the testimony, but many jurors said they developed close relationships with one another. Some exchanged numbers and promised to stay in touch.

Two women, Celia Ayala and Bertha Rocha, said they had discovered they had a lot in common -- including a feeling of discomfort at hearing such graphic talk about sex.

But it could have been worse. As Judge Judith Chirlin told jurors before dismissing them: "You could have been here on some boring contract case."

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jessica.garrison@latimes.com

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