Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Update on Dr. Mel Levine: New York Times Article August 5, 2008

Back on April 7, 2008, I posted "Disturbing News About Dr. Mel Levine" when I first learned of the child abuse allegations against the noted pediatrician, learning expert, and founder of All Kinds of Minds. On that day, parents of children who attend Mendham Township Elementary School or Mendham Township Middle School, who had marked our calendars and purchased tickets months in advance for a presentation from Dr. Mel Levine, received a message from our school superintendent that the much anticipated presentation had been cancelled. Parents were advised to check the Mendham Township Schools web site for a complete explanation of the cancellation.

I am sure I was not the only parent who was shocked and devastated to read the statement from Dr. Christine Johnson:

"Please be advised that the presentations for the community on the evening of April 8, 2008 and for the staff during the day on April 9, 2008 by Dr. Mel Levine have been cancelled. We have just learned from published news accounts that Dr. Levine has been accused, in a civil lawsuit, of child abuse. Although the district has no way of knowing whether the allegations are true, the district has decided to cancel the events due to the seriousness and the nature of the charges."

Roxiticus Desperate Housewives followed the story as it unfolded during April, including:

Then Dr. Levine disappeared from the news. Yesterday (August 5, 2008), The New York Times published a lengthy article by Leslie Kaufman entitled Accusations of Sex Abuse Trail Doctor . Because of the litigation, Dr. Levine’s attorneys advised him not to be interviewed for Kaufman's article. Instead, Dr. Levine provided a 14-page autobiography that described his career, his hobbies and his wife of 40 years, Bambi. They have no children.

While you can read the full New York Times article here, I've provided a few key excerpts that provide new information since the story first broke in the Boston Globe back in April:

"The five men who have filed lawsuits against Dr. Levine say they do not know one another, but their charges are similar: During physical examinations, which parents were discouraged from attending, the boys, ages 5 to 13, were asked to strip naked and stay that way for the entire exam. They were then allegedly touched inappropriately. Because of the nature of the accusations, these men have chosen not to disclose their identities to the public. Their names, however, are known to defendants. One plaintiff is in prison, Mr. Durso said, because of a 'serious charge' relating to carrying a firearm.

Since Mr. Durso held a news conference last spring, he says 43 former male patients — or their mothers speaking for them — have also said they were victims of abuse. All were treated at Children’s Hospital or at the University of North Carolina.

Those from North Carolina are represented by Elizabeth Kuniholm, a lawyer working with Mr. Durso. Ms. Kuniholm says four men and the parents of two others told their stories to the North Carolina Medical Board. She does not yet know how many will sue.

One of those men, now 28, agreed to meet with The Times. Because his father and sister are prominent educators who do not want to tangle publicly with Dr. Levine, he asked that his name not be published. He said he was not planning to sue.

The visits with Dr. Levine began when he was 9. His family had moved, and he began struggling in school; his parents worried that he might have a learning disability. Medical records sent to The Times by Ms. Kuniholm confirm that this man was a patient of Dr. Levine for several years, with regular visits and physical exams. In addition, The Times interviewed the father, who took him to many appointments and confirms that Dr. Levine routinely gave his son a physical exam alone in the room.

The young man said he remembered only the first two visits clearly. He recalled a series of tests related to reading and math, given by Dr. Levine’s associates. He said Dr. Levine met with his parents to discuss the results, then sent them to a waiting room while he conducted a physical examination.

'My mom remembers thinking it was unusual that I was there for educational issues and that he would take me into an exam room unattended,' he said. 'But my mom didn’t want to protest because she trusted him.'

In the room, he was asked to strip. He said he remembered sitting nervously on the exam table and staring at his clothes on the floor. Dr. Levine, he said, told him he was 'very special,' and rubbed the boy’s penis until it was erect. At the same time he asked if the boy had wet dreams. He said Dr. Levine was wearing gray pants and had an erection as he brushed against his side. Then the exam was over.

The man said he did not tell his parents at that time because he felt ashamed.

He came forward, he said, when he read about the lawsuits in a newspaper. It enraged him that Dr. Levine had prospered, and he wanted to corroborate the accusations.

'What I can’t understand now,' he said, 'is why this was allowed to go on for so long.'

Points in Defense [of Dr. Mel Levine]

Dr. Levine’s defenders make several points. None of the complaints were ever substantiated.

The similarities are also suspicious, said Edward F. Mahoney, a lawyer representing Dr. Levine in the current lawsuits. His firm, Martin, Magnuson, McCarthy & Kenney, represented Dr. Levine in 1988 as well. 'Frankly, we think there is a copycat element,' he said.

Dr. Coleman, who worked with Dr. Levine in North Carolina for two decades, added that Dr. Levine had seen thousands of patients and that most remained loyal and grateful.

'He had a huge follow-up population of kids who have been coming back over and over,' Dr. Coleman said.

Based on his lawyers’ statements, Dr. Levine’s defense will most likely rest on the idea of standard practice. Dr. Levine has not denied that he examined the boys’ genitals, but his lawyers have issued statements explaining that the accusations were most likely based on 'distorted or misinterpreted memories.' The exams, they said, were medically necessary, even for children with learning and emotional difficulties.

'A thorough assessment includes a complete physical and neurological examination,' the lawyers wrote. 'Examination of a child’s genitals can give the doctor important information about genetic disorders, physical maturity, hormone problems, hernias or conditions relating to the testicles and other medically important issues.'

Dr. Nancy A. Murphy, chairwoman of the council on children with disabilities for the American Academy of Pediatricians, called the statement fair, but only for an initial exam.
Dr. Murphy, who is not familiar with Dr. Levine’s practices, said that typically the primary pediatrician would check for physical problems and the consulting doctor would administer neurological exams. She added, 'Every time the kids come in, they don’t need a complete physical examination.' All the men in the four lawsuits say they were subject to at least two physical exams.

Dr. Coleman, Dr. Levine’s colleague, said he stopped conducting physical examinations years ago. But he defended Dr. Levine. 'He is more thorough and more traditional than the average practitioner,' Dr. Coleman said.

‘No One Ever Called’

In 1988 a 17-year-old man filed a lawsuit alleging that, starting when he was 7, Dr. Levine, who was then at Children’s Hospital, treated him for bowel trouble and sexually abused him.

Court records show that in a letter dated October 1985, just months after Dr. Levine had departed for North Carolina, the man’s mother wrote Dr. David Weiner, then the president of Children’s Hospital, to alert him to her concerns. 'In the spring of 1984,' she wrote, 'while my son and I were on the way to Children’s Hospital, he told me that he was frightened about the examination.'

'Dr. Levine would always examine his testicles while Chris’s penis touched or was located very close to the doctor’s cheek,' she wrote.

But the mother said no one from Children’s Hospital ever interviewed her or her son. Dr. Weiner said he could not recall the specific event and therefore did not feel comfortable commenting on the case. In a written statement, Children’s Hospital said there were no complaints about Dr. Levine until after he left in 1985. Michelle Davis, a spokeswoman for the hospital, said the institution had investigated the accusations and found that Dr. Levine’s care had been 'appropriate within the context of the child’s medical needs.'

The University of North Carolina says Children’s Hospital never relayed information about the complaint. Karen McCall, a spokeswoman for the medical school and hospitals, said they learned of the case from Dr. Levine, sometime after it was dismissed in 1991. The hospital did not do an investigation, she said, because it 'doesn’t have a protocol to investigate dismissed lawsuits.'

In November 1993 the Board of Registration in Medicine in Massachusetts received a similar complaint. The man, whose name is not available to the public, said that as a child he had seen Dr. Levine for bowel trouble in the late 1970s. 'Dr. Levine would lay me on the examination table nude,' he wrote the board, and play with his penis and discuss his wet dreams.

In a detailed reply to the board, Dr. Levine said that he did not remember the patient but that examining testicles was medically necessary, and that children, particularly adolescents, needed to discuss their sexuality.

The board accepted Dr. Levine’s response. But Russell Aims, the board’s spokesman, said there was no evidence that the board had contacted the man filing the complaint. Standards for investigations had changed, Mr. Aims added, and today the complainant is always contacted.

In Massachusetts such complaints are a matter of public record once closed, but the medical board is not required to notify the doctor’s hospital if there is no formal discipline. The board and Dr. Levine never informed the University of North Carolina about this second complaint, Ms. McCall said.

Like most hospitals, however, the University of North Carolina does ask its doctors, as part of their credential application, which must be filed every two years, whether they have been the subject of complaints — even unfounded ones. Ms. McCall said that because of legal restraints about personnel files she could not say whether Dr. Levine’s credential application omitted such information. Dr. Levine’s lawyers declined to comment.

Next Steps in the Mel Levine Cases

What will happen next for Dr. Levine is unclear. The lawsuits may take years to litigate. In April he voluntarily suspended his license while being investigated by the North Carolina medical board. The board does not discuss investigations, but a person familiar with it said the earliest a decision could be made on Dr. Levine would be in the fall.

Meanwhile, throughout the spring, Dr. Levine continued lecturing and promoting All Kinds of Minds, which pays him an annual licensing fee.

Mary-Dean Barringer, the chief executive of All Kinds of Minds, said most parents were 'incredulous' over the accusations. She added that Dr. Levine’s work would not be compromised even if the allegations were true.

'We wouldn’t back away from using the incredible groundbreaking ideas and compassion in understanding how children’s minds work,' Ms. Barringer said."

-- Leslie Kaufman, "Accusations of Sex Abuse Trail Doctor" in the New York Times, August 5, 2008


Anonymous said...

Hey, what Mel Levine did was nothing new. A prominent child psychiatrist named Dr. William Ayres was arrested last year for molesting young boy patients in the same way that Levine is accused of. To date, there are 41 victims of Dr. Ayres.

Coincidentally, Ayres and Levine travelled in the same Harvard Medical School/Boston Childrens' Hospital at the same time in the 1960s, as did another child psychiatrist, Donald Lee Rife who was busted in Florida ten years ago for molesting young boys. Did these three doctors cross paths ?

Anonymous said...

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Spicybugz said...

'We wouldn’t back away from using the incredible groundbreaking ideas and compassion in understanding how children’s minds work,' Ms. Barringer said."

ummm...why would anyone want to use the ideas of a child molester?

Ferd said...

Levine's failure to disclose the second allegation against him to the NC Medical Board speaks volumes. Every physician knows the absolute importance of disclosure on license applications and renewals. If he lied on an application, he's probably guilty.

It's a sad fact, but pedophiles go where the kids are. I'm sure pedophilia crosses all socioeconomic lines. Why wouldn't a smart pedophile become a pediatrician.

Ms. Barringer's livelihood probably depends on the "All Kinds of Minds" program. Of course she wants to believe it will all be alright. But she'd be smart to start looking for another job!

Nothing is more precious than our children. It is basic human nature to protect them. In that sense, pedophiles are the most inhuman of criminals, and should lose the right to live in society.

Anonymous said...

New blog on child psychiatrist Dr. William Ayres discusses the similarities between the molestation cases of Dr. Levine and Dr. Ayres: