Dr. Kooshian vs. the Gay Community

Can Charles Bouley II sue Stephen Kooshian? Should others follow suit?

Photo by Daniel AmspaughInside Long Beach Superior Court last month, two prominent gay Southern Californians clashed in a case on the startling 2001 Gay Pride weekend death of Andrew Howard, a 34-year-old KFI-AM (640) talk-radio host. But the Feb. 20 court battle between Charles "Karel" Bouley II, Howard's life and on-air partner, and Orange County's most controversial HIV specialist, Dr. G. Steven Kooshian, had nothing to do with alleged fatal medical malpractice. At issue was whether Assembly Bill 25, the state's year-old domestic-partner law, gave Bouley legal standing to sue Kooshian, Long Beach Memorial Medical Center and members of its emergency-room staff for Howard's death.

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Domestic-partner laws polarize political communities, but the Howard case added a surprising twist. Bouley's right to use the new statute was challenged by a fellow gay man: Kooshian, who routinely touts his support of the gay community in full-page newspaper ads.

Bouley and Howard had lived together for 12 years, owned joint property and had registered with the Secretary of State as domestic partners. But in challenging Bouley's $500,000 wrongful-death suit, Kooshian may have stolen a page from the Reverend Lou Sheldon's playbook. He claimed that legal recognition of Bouley's gay relationship with Howard would "deprive" Howard's parents of their rights.

"His argument is absolutely disgusting," Bouley said. "I am suing him [Kooshian] with the support of Andrew's parents. The fact is he personally knew us as a couple, and he even wanted us to promote him on our [KFI] show. Dr. Kooshian says he's the champion of the gay community, but then he fights against my domestic-partner rights."

Kooshian disagrees.

"Let me be clear that I fully support the right of a domestic partner to pursue a wrongful-death lawsuit, and I was extremely pleased by Governor [Gray] Davis' decision to sign that bill into law," the doctor said. "My attorneys assured me that we would not be taking any position contrary to the validity of that law."

Bouley scoffed at the doctor's explanation.

"As a gay man, he ought to be embarrassed," he said. "It's all about the money with him."

But Kooshian—a millionaire doctor who lives in a $3.6 million Newport Coast mansion (as well as a new $1.4 million La Quinta estate at PGA West), owns a fleet of luxury cars and has been accused in court complaints of putting profits before patient care—won the fight. Judge Margaret Hay didn't even wait a day after oral arguments to boot Bouley from the case. Howard's parents remain as plaintiffs but are not entitled to the same level of financial damages if negligence is found.

In a terse opinion, Hay accepted Kooshian's argument that AB 25 did not give Bouley the right to sue as Howard's domestic partner because Howard had died five months before the law was enacted. She stated unequivocally that the law "is not retroactive."

Oddly, the judge did not explain how her ruling jibes with the section of AB 25 that declares domestic-partner rights in wrongful death cases apply "to any cause of action arising after Jan. 1, 1993."

"We expected the judge to rule against us," said Bouley. "She's a very conservative judge. But it was the legislature's intent to make the law retroactive. I couldn't have been more married to Andrew. He would be so mad about what has happened. I definitely plan to appeal."

* * *

Bouley remembers Howard's death too clearly. Beneath an overcast morning sky, thousands of revelers lined Ocean Avenue on the final day of Long Beach's Lesbian & Gay Pride 2001 weekend to watch a colorful parade of characters. Later, the cheerful party moved to festival grounds where a raucous, twilight performance by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts capped off the popular two-day event attended by more than 55,000. As the official celebration closed, the party was just beginning for Howard, Bouley and several friends.

Howard would be dead by sunrise.

May had not been a good month. The couple—known as Karel and Andrew on air—owned the weekday, drive-time slot on a popular Los Angeles station, KFI, for 22 months. They'd met at a Garden Grove gay bar in 1989 and a decade later made radio history as the first openly gay couple with their own show. Unlike KABC's Al Rantel and KFI's Matt Drudge, they never shied away from their sexuality. Their style was usually light and funny, but they often espoused views that would have delighted a Utah Republican Party convention. Bouley regularly challenged pro-gay liberal groups. Howard—the shy and comparatively liberal member of the duo—advocated lobotomies and castration for prisoners. The mix of zany personalities and open sexuality with eccentric politics captured a large, loyal following in a market known for adolescent homophobia.

For Karel, a onetime struggling standup comic, and Howard, a former Reuben's Steak House waiter, it was quite a ride. That all changed when the station's management decided in May 2001 that they wanted more testosterone in the time slot. Enter firebrands John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou.

Despite the setback, Karel and Andrew had reason to be upbeat. They were in love, shared a beautiful house and dreamed of adopting a baby girl. Even without a show, they were still collecting regular checks from their $250,000 annual salary from KFI, and as they vacationed in Hawaii in mid-May, KFI's owner was reportedly preparing to launch them on another LA station.

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