Lawsuit accuses state of failing to discipline rapist gynecologist

12/17/2005

By GENE JOHNSON  / Associated Press

Eight women sued the state Health Department on Friday, saying officials began receiving complaints about gynecologist Charles Momah in 1995 but did not suspend his license until 2003, after he had abused dozens of other patients.

A jury convicted Momah last month of two counts of rape and two counts of indecent liberties. He faces a maximum 23 years in prison when he's sentenced next month.

The lawsuit filed in King County Superior Court on Friday seeks class-action status, saying that at least 60 and perhaps as many as 500 women were abused by Nigerian-born Momah and his twin, Dennis Momah, who has been accused of sometimes posing as the doctor. No criminal charges have been brought against the brother, who has denied the allegations.

The Health Department's Medical Quality Assurance Commission never should have licensed Charles Momah to practice medicine to begin with, wrote lawyer Harish Bharti, who's being assisted in the case by former state Supreme Court Justice Phil Talmadge. When Momah moved from New York to Washington in 1993, Momah had been repeatedly accused of malpractice at the hospital where he had worked facts the commission should have turned up in a background check, Bharti said.

The hospital, Massena Memorial in Massena, N.Y., declined to renew Momah's clinical privileges after finding that he had performed a tubal sterilization procedure with "no prior consent"; improperly doled out a narcotic painkiller; kept sloppy records; and that he "may be abusing the practice of induction for his personal convenience, since hospital records demonstrate a high rate of inductions" just before Momah had scheduled trips out of town.

"The misconduct by Dr. Momah at the Massena Memorial Hospital in New York made it highly foreseeable to the defendants that Dr. Momah would perform the same types of misconduct, which he did, as a licensed physician in Washington," Bharti wrote.

The Health Department had not seen the lawsuit until The Associated Press provided a copy and could not immediately comment on the allegations, spokesman Tim Church said.

"Patient safety is our highest concern," Church said Friday. "Our first indication of any boundary violations by Dr. Momah was in 2003, and he has not practiced since in our state."

After Momah moved to Washington, he opened clinics in the south Seattle suburbs of Burien and Federal Way under the name Northwest Center for Obstetrics, Gynecology and Infertility. He also worked out of hospitals in Auburn and Burien.

In 1995, the lawsuit said, Momah repeatedly performed unnecessary vaginal ultrasounds on plaintiffs Daleena Rollins and Jolie Campbell, as well as other patients a procedure that typically is performed once every four years. Momah billed the state for these exams, creating a record of how often he performed them, the lawsuit said.

Rollins became concerned about Momah's sexual touching, and switched doctors in early 1995. With the help of the new doctor, she filed a written complaint with the commission that April. The commission assigned a case number but apparently never followed up, the lawsuit said.

By 1997, several more complaints had been filed. One woman complained to King County prosecutors and the county medical association that Momah billed her insurance for delivering her baby before the baby had been born.

The Health Department wrote Momah a letter in March 1997, saying he was the target of an investigation for "unprofessional conduct." By that time, Momah had been indicted in New York for larceny and fraud; New York officials said he had defrauded the state of $360,000.

He was acquitted of the criminal charges, but he eventually agreed to pay $500,000 to settle civil fraud charges brought by New York state, the lawsuit said. He was censured and reprimanded by the New York State Department of Health in 1999.

The Washington state medical quality assurance commission started further investigations against Momah in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2002. Highline Hospital and Auburn Regional Medical Center barred him from practicing there, and state records show he began performing major abdominal surgeries in his unsanitary Federal Way offices. Still, no disciplinary action was taken, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit seeks damages to be determined at trial. Bharti is also representing dozens of women who have sued the Momahs.

___

Gene Johnson has covered courts and legal affairs for the AP since 2000.