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Judge refuses to pull doctor's license

The Medical Board of California accused Dr. Andrew Rutland of violating a court ban on performing surgeries. But the jurist says evidence from an undercover sting did not support the allegation.

February 18, 2010|By Lisa Girion

A judge Thursday denied state medical authorities' emergency request to pull a physician's license based on evidence they gathered in an undercover sting at an abortion clinic.

The Medical Board of California had accused Dr. Andrew Rutland of violating a court order to not perform surgeries and first trimester abortions. Administrative Law Judge James Ahler issued the order in January, temporarily restricting Rutland's license pending a full hearing over his role in the death of a woman after an abortion last summer in a San Gabriel clinic.

An investigator for the state medical board, posing as a pregnant woman, made an appointment earlier this month to see Rutland at A Women's Choice Family Planning Clinic in Chula Vista. She used an alias and brought a urine sample from a pregnant woman.

Rutland concluded that the woman was about seven weeks pregnant and encouraged her to allow him to perform a "chemical abortion," in which pills are used to induce miscarriage, the investigator said. She said she didn't have time to wait for that process and insisted on a surgical abortion. Rutland told her his physician daughter performed surgical abortions but was not available. An appointment was scheduled.

Ahler concluded that Rutland was complying with his order because he repeatedly told the undercover investigator that he did not perform surgical abortions.

"The preponderance of evidence did not establish that Dr. Rutland violated or intended to violate the amended interim order imposing restrictions" on his license, Ahler wrote in his order. "To the contrary, Rutland refused to perform a surgical abortion when asked to do so by the undercover operative several times."

Rutland's lawyer, Paul M. Hittelman, said the judge made the right decision.

"Today's proceedings should have never happened, and I think it was the result of some overzealous activity on behalf of the medical board," Hittelman said.

The state medical board was "disappointed that the judge did not agree with our petition that Dr. Rutland poses an imminent threat to public safety," said spokeswoman Candis Cohen.

Cohen said the board would pursue its effort to revoke Rutland's license "as expeditiously as possible."

Rutland still faces a full hearing on the state's accusation of negligence over the August death of Ying Chen, 30. The woman fell into a coma after a toxic reaction to a drug Rutland administered, according to the autopsy report. The medical board has accused him of failing to take proper precautions by scheduling the second-trimester abortion in an ill-equipped and unsanitary back room of a San Gabriel acupuncture clinic.

At the time, Rutland was on probation and practicing under another physician's supervision. The medical board acknowledged earlier this month that it violated its own rules by allowing Christopher Dotson Jr., a Los Angeles doctor with a spotty disciplinary record of his own, to serve as Rutland's monitor.

Rutland first surrendered his license in 2002 in a high-profile case involving the deaths of two infants.

In 2007, Rutland persuaded the board that he had been rehabilitated and won his license back.

Hittelman, Rutland's lawyer, declined to discuss the accusation over Chen's death, saying only: "We will mount a spirited defense."

lisa.girion@latimes.com

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