Not Not Guilty

Photo by Jack GouldIn 2001, Dr. G. Steven Kooshian's longtime chief nurse and a patient filed two lawsuits alleging that the popular doctor had surreptitiously and repeatedly injected a cheap water-and-vitamin mix into an HIV patient instead of powerful, prescription AIDS drugs. Kooshian strenuously denied any wrongdoing, but his defense was puzzling. Following key revelations in the Weekly, Kooshian finally admitted (in an Orange County Register interview and later in a deposition) that he misled the patient about the injections. His excuse? He claimed he couldn't obtain the prescribed drugs in time. Despite the admission, Kooshian promised that juries would never find him guilty.

He was right.

As of Jan. 31, each of the civil cases has been dismissed from Orange County Superior Court, but not necessarily for the reason Kooshian had suggested. Both Virgil Opinion, his former nurse, and Bryan Noble, his former patient, agreed to drop their lawsuits after the millionaire HIV specialist paid them undisclosed amounts. Thanks to legal motions by the doctor, settlement terms in both cases have been sealed and all parties to the litigation are prohibited from discussing the matter. In the Noble suit, Kooshian won even greater secrecy. Without offering even a hint of rationale, Judge William M. Monroe ordered the entire case file removed from public view.

Kooshian was accused of lying about drug injections; selling worthless, expired drugs; and giving patients suboptimal doses of expensive, critical drugs—all extremely serious charges—but Orange County residents now will likely never know the truth. Judge Michael Naughton, who handled the Opinion case, asserted that secrecy will protect the public and Kooshian's profitable medical business at Valley View Internal Medicine in Garden Grove and at his Ocean View Internal Medicine in Laguna Beach and Long Beach. Disclosure of the facts of the settlement would "materially interfere" with Kooshian's "reputation," Naughton said.

"I find that there is an overriding interest in public safety as well as the right [my emphasis] of prospective HIV and AIDS patients to have medical treatment without concern as to the clinic which is doing the treatment," Naughton wrote. "I believe that this overriding interest with respect to the public and in particular with AIDS patients overrides the public's right to know."

Orange County is a place where reigning conservatives angrily bemoan judicial expansion of rights by liberal judges. But, at least according to one local judge, HIV and AIDS patients—as well as the public at large—have a previously unknown right: the right to be ignorant of a doctor's history.

Though Kooshian has been honored for his work by a gay community group and has a vocal following, his record hasn't always been virtuous. In 1991, dozens of state narcotics officers raided two of Kooshian's Orange County medical offices after an undercover sting operation. The police confiscated various drugs related to illegal steroid production and arrested the doctor. Kooshian was charged with 14 felony counts, including prescribing drugs without a legitimate purpose and prescribing drugs to individuals who were not his patients. In a plea-bargain deal, the counts were reduced to misdemeanors, and Kooshian escaped with a sentence of three years' probation and a $20,000 fine.

The last we checked, those facts have yet to disappear from public view.


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