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Top Ten Professional Licensing Stories of 2009 #10: “Alford plea” on sexual assault triggers automatic license revocation, court finds

March/April 2009

The Maryland medical board properly revoked a physician’s license without a hearing after he entered an Alford plea to second-degree assault  involving “extraordinary circumstances,” the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland held March 27 (State Board of Physicians v. Michael S. Rudman).  The court reversed a trial court which had vacated the board’s revocation order.

The case involved Michael S. Rudman, who had practiced medicine for 30 years in Maryland. The Maryland Board of Physicians received a complaint from one of Rudman’s patients in 2005 that he had touched her sexually. It notified the county sheriff’s office, which investigated and found another patient who made similar allegations.

Rudman was charged with three counts of second-degree assault and three counts of fourth-degree sexual offense. The board subsequently heard from nine other people who came forward with related complaints.

It suspended Rudman’s license, then vacated the suspension under conditions that Rudman practice no form of massage on any of his patients, that he have a female chaperone in the room for each patient encounter with a female patient, that she be able to directly observe the entire consultation, examination, and treatment, and that her identity be documented in the medical record.

However, Rudman entered an Alford plea—a guilty plea that permits a defendant to deny the charges while admitting the state has sufficient evidence to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt—to a criminal charge of second-degree assault and was granted “probation before judgment.” He was placed on supervised probation. Following that verdict, in December 2006 the medical board revoked Rudman’s license.

Rudman appealed, and the trial court agreed with him that since he disputed the “outrageous facts” of the case, the second-degree assault charge should not be considered a crime of moral turpitude  absent a hearing on the merits of the charges. It reversed the board.

In the board’s appeal, the argument was that the Alford plea was a guilty plea and therefore the suspension of Rudman’s license was required by the Health Occupations Act.  The appeals court agreed, finding in the board’s favor and ordering that Rudman pay costs of the appeal.

In this case, it said, “The board relied upon the existing court record, specifically the recorded proffer made by the state as to the acts committed by Rudman at the time Rudman entered his plea, in determining that Rudman had, during a medical examination, sexually assaulted his patient.”

The state’s evidence “provided more than ample basis for that determination,” the court concluded.