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Scientist's defamation suit tossed out of court

The fertility researcher had sued a Riverside doctor who had been critical of his work. Judge cites 1st Amendment rights.

November 21, 2007|Charles Ornstein | Times Staff Writer

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge Tuesday threw out a defamation lawsuit filed by a prominent South Korean fertility scientist against a Riverside doctor who has been critical of his work.

Dr. Kwang-Yul Cha, who has been president of hospitals and research labs in Los Angeles and South Korea, accused Dr. Bruce Flamm of conducting a "bitter personal vendetta" against him after Cha published a 2001 study suggesting that prayer might help women become pregnant.

Flamm stepped up his criticism earlier this year after The Times reported on a new controversy involving a 2005 article in which Cha was listed as the lead author. That article appears to be nearly a paragraph-for-paragraph, chart-for-chart copy of a junior researcher's doctoral thesis, which appeared in a Korean medical journal nearly two years earlier, according to a Times review of both papers and the findings of a Korean medical society.

In an opinion piece in the March 15 issue of OB/GYN News, Flamm cited a February article in The Times in which Dr. Alan DeCherney, editor of the journal Fertility and Sterility, said the 2005 article appeared to be plagiarized.

Flamm also wrote, referring to the prayer study: "This may be the first time in history that all three authors of a randomized, controlled study have been found guilty of fraud, deception and/or plagiarism."

One of Cha's coauthors went to federal prison on unrelated fraud charges. The other pulled his name off the research, saying he had served only as an editorial advisor.

In the lawsuit dismissed Tuesday, Cha's lawyers wrote that he had not been found guilty of any wrongdoing and that Flamm's criticism of the prayer paper was "fanaticism bordering on obsession."

Although Fertility and Sterility retracted the 2005 article because it had been first published in a different journal, DeCherney apologized for his comments about plagiarism, calling them "inaccurate and regrettable."

Flamm's lawyers wrote that Cha's suit "is made solely to stamp out any critical scrutiny of his scientific and academic credentials and techniques and to chill Dr. Flamm's exercise of his 1st Amendment rights."

Ruling from the bench, Judge James R. Dunn cited a state law intended to quash so-called strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPPs. The law is intended to stop lawsuits of questionable merit that could have the effect of limiting discourse on matters of public interest.

"The 1st Amendment is a powerful instrument," Dunn said.

Cha's lawyer, Anthony M. Glassman, said his client would carefully consider his options.

Flamm, who works as an obstetrician/gynecologist at Kaiser Permanente in Riverside, called the ruling "a victory for science and academic medicine."

charles.ornstein@latimes.com

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