Does Maryland Physician Discipline Protect the Public?

In Maryland, the conduct of licensed physicians is governed by the Maryland Board of Physicians. This entity essentially determines who is licensed to practice medicine in Maryland, and is responsible for disciplining doctors when they don’t follow the rules.

The conduct of licensed attorneys is governed by the Court of Appeals of Maryland. The Court sets the standards for admission to the Maryland bar and handles disciplinary issues regarding attorney misconduct. The Attorney Grievance Commission acts as “prosecutor” of attorneys accused of misconduct.

I would like to contrast two cases to illustrate how this process works. First: the case of attorney Jill Johnson Pennington. This lawyer was hired to handle a personal injury case. She failed to competently represent her clients by missing the statute of limitations. This effectively ended any chance the clients had to recover in court. OK. That isn’t good. It only gets worse. Compounding the problem, the lawyer lied to the clients about whether their case had been filed. Then she presented them with false settlement paperwork, making it look like the party responsible was settling. In reality, the lawyer was paying her own funds to make the faux “settlement”. She never told the clients what had happened or about the possible malpractice claim they had against her.

It is black-letter law that attorney discipline proceedings are conducted for the protection of the public. The lawyer was disbarred. It’s a no-brainer.

If you lie to clients to cover up your own malpractice and fail to advise them of their rights as a result of your misconduct, you deserve to be disbarred. Clients need to know that their attorney has a duty to them that will be enforced. The system cannot work if there is no trust that attorneys are acting in clients’ best interest, or if they may fail to do so without any threat of repercussions.

Second: The case of a urologist who was treating a patient with a cancerous tumor on the left kidney. The doctor mistakenly removed the (healthy, except for a benign growth) right kidney instead. Then, he never told the patient he took out the wrong kidney, even when the patient and other doctors called him about the mistake. He never informed the hospital of his mistake or documented it in the operative note.

The Maryland Board of Physicians found the doctor violated the standard of adequate care, engaged in unprofessional conduct, made a false report in the practice of medicine, and made a willful misrepresentation in treatment. Now, for the sanction imposed- a public REPRIMAND. Dr. Levin also had to write a letter of apology, undergo counseling, monitoring, and continuing education.
Lawyer commits malpractice and lies to cover it up. Sanction- Disbarment.

The doctor commits malpractice and lies to cover it up. Sanction- told not to do it again and must say he is sorry.

The malpractice is not really what I think is the problem in these instances. It is the lying to cover it up. Everyone makes mistakes. Not everyone is a liar. One is an error in judgment; the other is a character flaw. I might accept a doctor or lawyer who made an honest mistake, but not one who lies to the people they have an ethical and legal duty to protect.

I don’t think the public feels safer knowing that if their doctor removes the wrong kidney, all that will happen is he will be told not to do that anymore and have to do some extra homework. How can anyone blame a person in that situation for seeking the guidance of a Maryland medical malpractice attorney?