November 14, 2017

UNM lawyers question doctor’s credibility in whistleblower lawsuit

Andy Lyman

Second Judicial District Court in Albuquerque

University of New Mexico lawyers questioned the former resident  who brought a lawsuit against the medical school on Monday. UNM’s lawyers spent the day trying to poke holes in the testimony of Dr. Cynthia Herald, who alleges the medical school kicked her out of the residency program after she told administrators a male colleague raped her. Last week, Herald testified for hours about the events and UNMH’s response.

Patricia Williams, a lawyer for UNMH, asked Herald what steps she took to preserve forensic evidence after the alleged rape.

“Did you retain your underwear from that night?” Williams asked.

“I don’t know,” Herald responded.

Williams also pointed out  that Herald did not immediately call a rape crisis hotline or 911 and got Herald to say she got a ride, at least part of the way home, from her alleged attacker.

Williams asked Herald what happened to text messages Herald said she received from the male doctor.

“I found them offensive so I deleted them,” Herald answered.

In previous testimony Herald said her supervisors continued to schedule her and the male doctor at the same times and same places, even after she had reported the alleged attack.

Williams tried to show the jury, through a map of UNM’s north campus, that while the two were scheduled at the same time, they worked in buildings about a mile apart.

Herald said that while they were officially scheduled in different buildings, schedules and demands change often and rapidly at the hospital and they would sometimes end up in the same location.

Williams spent much of the day going through Herald’s previous testimony piece by piece, trying to show that she was not fired for reporting a rape, but instead for failing to meet standards, breaking rules and abusing drugs on the job.

During one medical procedure in her second year of residency, Herald’s colleagues alerted supervising doctors that she may have been impaired. In her opening statements, Herald’s attorney Randi McGinn said it was a “hangover” from Ativan, a benzodiazepine for which she had a prescription. Regardless, Herald was pulled out of the operating room and made to submit a drug test. Williams asked Herald if she remembered struggling with her words, slurring speech, walking slowly or stumbling, with her eyes half-closed. Herald said she did not recall any of those symptoms.

Williams also questioned Dr. Brooke Baker an adjunct anesthesiology professor at UNMH who testified Herald’s work as a resident was “subpar.” Baker recounted a situation where Herald made several mistakes in the operating room, some Baker said could have been fatal.

“I had some concerns regarding her performance throughout the case,” Baker said.

Baker admitted residents are expected to make some mistakes, but added that Herald had a problem with acknowledging her mistakes.

“She did not apologize, she did not take responsibility,” Baker said.

Baker said Herald made several more crucial mistakes, which put patients in danger and ultimately led Baker to send an email to administrators with her concerns.

The trial was originally scheduled through Tuesday, but  a list of witnesses has yet to testify as well as closing arguments, which could push the proceedings through the end of the week.