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By Charles Lam
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Plastic surgeon Brian West tries to get a restraining order against a former patient who got him into trouble with the state
Brian West, a plastic surgeon who practiced most recently in Huntington Beach and who is about to go on trial with the Medical Board of California for violating the terms of the board's alcohol-abuse treatment program, is convinced one of his former patients is violently stalking him.
He's so convinced that in mid-July, he filed for a restraining order against the former patient, Tina Minasian, as well as for one against the husband of another former patient.
"Whenever she loses in a court of law, she turns violent," the burly, soft-spoken West nervously told a judge at a Los Angeles Superior Courthouse in Santa Monica last week. He held a stack of evidence, including printed copies of Web pages from MySpace and the site Minasian started, "Brian West MD—Bad Plastic Surgeon."
With his buxom wife, Leighann West, by his side as a key witness, West described how he had received anonymous death threats and was afraid for his children's safety as a result of Minasian's relentless web activity. He told the judge he has opened a criminal stalking case with the Los Angeles Police Department.
Minasian is almost single-handedly responsible for the slew of medical-board accusations West will face in September. The hearings could result in the revocation of West's license.
West performed a body-lift on Minasian in 2002 while practicing in Sacramento. Minasian filed a malpractice suit in 2005 after her wound healed horribly, she says. As reported in the Weekly (see "Under Wraps," Jan. 10), just before her case went to trial, Minasian found out West was under investigation by the state medical board. She went to two of the board's hearings and learned about West's failure to stay sober while he was in the board's Diversion Program—and while she was his patient.
The highly confidential program (the public were not allowed to know if their doctor was involved) gave practicing physicians with drug- and alcohol-abuse problems a way out of license revocation if they agreed to attend rehab sessions and take random urine tests. It was permanently abolished this year after failing five audits during its 27-year existence.
The board allowed West to keep his license in 2005 and put him on probation, despite his having relapsed four times while in the program. He relocated to Los Angeles and has practiced in Beverly Hills, Long Beach and Huntington Beach.
Minasian lost her malpractice case against West but learned that she could file a complaint with the state medical board. Minasian also learned the board was unaware of the dozen or so patients who had filed lawsuits against West because separate complaints were never filed with the board. She then began finding other patients who experienced similar bad outcomes after their surgeries with West—patients who had been seeing him during the time he had relapsed and been arrested for a second DUI. Minasian convinced many such patients to file complaints with the board. Many also detailed their stories, complete with gory pictures, on Minasian's website.
Minasian's journey didn't stop there. She has made local and national rounds, along with other former patients, in an effort to advocate for patient safety and expose what she feels was a failed state diversion program. Their stories—and West's—have been covered by the AP, CNN and Fox News.
All of this negative coverage has made his life a living hell, West told the judge last week. Minasian's violent streak, he said, increases every time she suffers a loss in her battles with him. The latest, West stated in court documents, was the medical board's recent decision that Minasian's specific case would no longer be heard by them along with the others' in September.
In the Santa Monica courtroom, an impatient Judge John Reid asked West if he had ever been physically assaulted or received death threats directly from Minasian, who lives hundreds of miles away in Sacramento. The ruddy-faced physician said no, not exactly. He pointed to a MySpace page that he alleged Minasian opened in his name.
That and the website with patients' stories weren't enough to convince the judge of her violent streak. "That's cause for a civil lawsuit," Reid said of the Internet activity. "To get what you want, you have to show that you've been attacked, stricken, assaulted and that there is perceived injury or threat to you and your family."
In an interview, Minasian described West's restraining-order efforts as "his attempt to compromise my First Amendment rights and to keep me from being called as a witness in September." Minasian said she and Ken Mikulecky, the husband of a former patient who was named in the second restraining order filed by West, couldn't afford to fly down for the brief hearing.
First Amendment lawyer James Leonard, who flew in from Oakland to represent the pair pro bono, didn't have to make much of a case. The judge rejected West's request after about 15 minutes of deliberation, reiterating several times that a restraining order was not "the proper vehicle" for what West was seeking. "If you were defamed, file your lawsuit," he told the doctor.