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San Jose Mercury News (CA) - Thursday, October 30, 2003
Author: NERISSA PACIO, Mercury News
A Kaiser Permanente doctor charged with sexually assaulting patients during pelvic exams was found not guilty Wednesday, clearing a physician who was being retried after a jury deadlocked earlier this year.

Raul Ixtlahuac, 42, a family physician who practiced at Kaiser Permanente's Gilroy facility until his arrest in May 2001, was originally charged with four counts of sexual penetration and two counts of sexual battery that allegedly took place between the fall 2000 and the spring of 2001.

In March, a jury acquitted Ixtlahuac on one count of sexual battery and deadlocked on the five other charges.

''We're extremely relieved and gratified that the jury was able to look at the facts of this case objectively and realize that Dr. Ixtlahuac did nothing wrong,'' said defense attorney Doron Weinberg. ''This has been a terrible ordeal for him and his family, and we're just thrilled that he's vindicated.''

On Wednesday, it was unclear whether Ixtlahuac would return to work at Kaiser , said Gary Dulberg, senior counsel for the Permanente Medical Group. Since his arrest, he has been on paid leave.

''I think Dr. Ixtlahuac deserves a few hours to a few days to savor the jury's verdict and to contemplate what he now wants to do,'' Dulberg said. ''At that point we will sit down with him and have a conversation about that.''

Shortly after his arrest, the Medical Board of California suspended Ixtlahuac's license. The Medical Board is now conducting an independent investigation to determine whether the doctor violated the Medical Practice Act, said Candis Cohen, representative for the board.

Deputy Assistant District Attorney Chuck Gillingham, who prosecuted Ixtlahuac, said the outcome was ''a tremendous disappointment'' for the victims, who had to testify many times.

''It's almost too much to ask of anybody in a case like this,'' Gillingham said. ''They were very brave and they did a good job of recounting what had occurred. But inevitably over time . . . there's a level at which it becomes too much.''

The second trial began earlier this month and rehashed much of the same evidence, presenting again a mock examination room complete with an exam table with stirrups, medical equipment and a mannequin.

Ixtlahuac's defense attorney had the physician demonstrate the procedure for pelvic exams, arguing that given the doctor 's physical measurements and the dimensions of the exam table, he could not have committed the sexual crimes.

Gillingham countered that those measurements could be affected by things such as the heel height of Ixtlahuac's shoes or whether he used a step-stool attached to the exam table.

Gillingham argued that a person's education and profession does not have any bearing on his committing a crime, and that rape is an exercise of power, which Ixtlahuac had over his patients.

In his closing statement, Weinberg focused on the prosecution's lack of proof beyond reasonable doubt. Although he believed the women were not lying,the defense said they may have been agitated during the exams because of medical or emotional conditions. That caused them to become confused about what happened behind the hospital drape blocking their view.

Weinberg emphasized that initially the women were not sure of what they had experienced. But over time, bolstered by police interviews and news accounts, the women became convinced that they had been assaulted. Four of the original alleged victims did not come forward until after they were contacted by police or heard that Dr. Ixtlahuac had been arrested .

''Really these complaints escalated from nothing more than vague feelings of some kind of discomfort to accusations of sexual assault,'' Weinberg said. ''We saw that pattern emerge from the first trial and were able to help the jury see that was the pattern.'' Memo: Mercury News Staff Writer Elise Banducci contributed to this report.
Morning Final
Section: Local
Page: 1B
>Record Number: 0310310050
Copyright (c) 2003 San Jose Mercury News