Judge upholds suspension of Maryland psychiatrist Daniel Smithpeter

June 26, 2012

BALTIMORE -- A judge Monday upheld a state panel's one-year suspension of a psychiatrist accused of having sexual encounters with a patient in his Salisbury office.

Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Margaret Brooke Murdock rejected Dr. Daniel Smithpeter's appeal, which sought to send the case back to the Maryland Board of Physicians. Marc Cohen, an attorney for Smithpeter, vowed afterward to fight on to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals in Annapolis.

"The case is as good as on its way," he said. Smithpeter sat silently for most of the hearing and declined to speak to a reporter after the verdict.

Smithpeter was a subject of a June 10 report that appeared in The Daily Times. It showed that pharmaceutical giant Novartis continued paying him thousands of dollars in speaking fees in the 18 months between when the allegations surfaced and when he was suspended last December.

Smithpeter faces no criminal charges tied to the allegations, but they have derailed a successful medical career that included founding the outpatient psychiatric clinic Delmarva Family Resources, which routinely won service contracts from local governments.

The charges rest on the testimony of one unnamed female patient. The woman saw Smithpeter once or twice a month for more than three years for medication management. She had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and alcohol dependence.

She said that beginning in 2004, Smithpeter started getting "frisky," according to court documents. During the course of about a year, things escalated from flirty talk about her eyes to oral sex, according to court documents. Embarrassed and facing a custody battle for her children, she told no one except a few close friends. It wasn't until she told another doctor in late 2005 that the investigation began.

Cohen spent much of Monday's hearing alleging "legal mistakes" by state prosecutors and attacking the former patient's credibility.

He claimed that, contrary to what the Board of Physicians heard, she took psychoactive drugs and suffered from delusions. Those details, he said, would help explain why she believed the sexual activity occurred and the inconsistencies in her testimony.

And he would have presented the evidence supporting those claims, Cohen said. But the case's prosecutor warned that subpoenaing the necessary documents without giving the alleged victim the chance to challenge the move first would be illegal.

Cohen said he believed the law was on his side but didn't press the matter out of fear the state would add more charges out of retribution.

Murdock dismissed Cohen's challenge as a "red herring." She blamed Cohen for failing to properly subpoena the evidence.

Meanwhile, Cohen's attempts to punch holes in the woman's credibility also failed. For example, he said the woman at first denied performing oral sex on Smithpeter but later admitted she did.

"It's rare to have a case where three statements under oath are diametrically opposed. The point is if you can't tell what the truth is, you can't take away his license," Cohen said.

Murdock said she was in no legal position to "second guess" the credibility determination made by the administrative law judge. That judge met the alleged victim; the woman wasn't present at Monday's hearing.

Smithpeter, who lives in St. Michaels, remains barred from practicing medicine. A message on the website for Delmarva Family Resources prominently states that the clinic is "under new management."

Source: Jeremy Cox, "Salisbury psychiatrist's suspension upheld by judge," Delmarva Now, June 19, 2012.

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