A Texas doctor who was allowed to continue practicing after 17 women accused him of sexual impropriety has finally lost his medical license after being accused of similar misconduct by a man.
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Dr. Philip Leonard of Austin, Texas, was among the physicians spotlighted by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in its 2016 investigation that detailed how doctors across the nation had avoided serious consequences for sexually abusing patients.
The Texas Medical Board allowed the well-known neurologist to continue practicing even after the 17 women who accused him told similar stories of improper touching during exams. Rather than revoke his license, the board restricted him to treating male patients. The restriction, imposed in 2004, was lifted 10 years later.
The new case alleged that, while Leonard was still under the restriction, he touched a male patient’s genitals unnecessarily and continued violating sexual boundaries with the patient after the board order was lifted.
The board also cited Leonard for prescribing large quantities of the opioid painkiller Norco for the patient despite signs that the patient was abusing the drug.
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Cathryn Blue, one of the women who accused Leonard, expressed anger that the board didn’t revoke the doctor’s license when it considered the first set of allegations.
Blue noted that the board previously said Leonard's behavior was consistent with frotteurism — the compulsion to rub genitals against another person. Based on that, limiting the doctor's practice to men failed to take into account that he was prone to take advantage of vulnerable patients, regardless of their gender, she said.
“The board should have stepped up earlier,” Blue said. “They had a responsibility to protect the public. When so many women come forward, how can you not see a problem?”
A spokeswoman for the board said it had no comment beyond the information in its public orders.
The male victim reported Leonard to the board twice in 2015, but the board didn't lodge a formal complaint against Leonard until August 2016, a month after the doctor was mentioned prominently in the AJC's series.
In the reports to the board, portions of which were made public during a proceeding in front of an administrative law judge, the patient said Leonard used the prescriptions to ensure that he would be silent.
Leonard “had me dependent on him and the pills and he knew it,” the patient wrote.
According to the patient, he stopped seeing Leonard after a May 2015 office visit in which the doctor touched his genitals and said, “Nothing gets hard on you.” After leaving the office, the patient called 911 and contacted Austin police, the patient said.
Leonard denied the charges, but the administrative law judge, Beth Bierman, wrote that the patient testified credibly, reciting specific events that were not likely to have been fabricated.
The patient testified that he complained about Leonard’s behavior to the medical board after police did not pursue the matter.
The first case
Leonard, a former president of the Texas Neurological Society, first came to the board's attention after Blue called police hours after visiting the doctor's office for evaluation of a back injury in August 2001. She alleged that the doctor rubbed his erect penis against her knees as well as touched her inappropriately in other ways.
Leonard was arrested on a charge of engaging in sexually inappropriate behavior toward a patient. The publicity from the arrest prompted the other women to come forward, and eight eventually testified against the doctor at a public medical board hearing.
“It depended on where he was, but the way I like to put it (is) he led with his penis,” one of the women told the committee that heard the matter.
After the hearing, the board suspended Leonard’s license. To allow him to continue practicing “would constitute a continuing threat to the public welfare,” the board said.
However, after the criminal case stemming from Blue’s charges ended with Leonard’s acquittal, the board negotiated a settlement with the doctor that allowed him to return to practice. Although other women also complained to police, prosecutors took only Blue’s case to trial.
The physician who served as the board’s president at the time, Dr. Lee Anderson, acknowledged in a 2016 interview with the AJC that Leonard had abused his position, but he said the board, then strapped for resources, was forced to back off from a tough punishment after the doctor’s acquittal.
“What he did was clearly an abuse of power over these women,” Anderson said. “But the ugly reality is, what can we actually achieve? I am certain the acquittal had something to do with softening the suspension.”
In its 2016 investigation, the AJC identified more than 3,100 doctors nationwide who were publicly cited for sexual misconduct from 1999 through 2015. Roughly 2,400 had been disciplined for impropriety with patients. Of that group, half still had medical licenses.
A new national investigation by the AJC earlier this year uncovered 450 more cases of doctors who were brought before medical regulators or courts for sexual misconduct or sex crimes in 2016 and 2017. In nearly half of those cases, the physicians remained licensed.