A San Luis Obispo psychiatrist charged with multiple counts of corrupt, dishonest, and negligent acts by the California Medical Board will not stand trial this week as previously scheduled.
In November 2003, the Medical Board filed six charges against Dr. Erol Giray - who's practiced psychiatry in San Luis Obispo since the early 1990s - for engaging in exploitative relationships with his patients. Two charges accused Giray of "dishonest or corrupt" acts, two of "gross negligence," one of "repeated negligent acts," and one of "inadequate record keeping."
Isa Rodriguez, a deputy attorney general with the California Attorney General's office, says the May 23 hearing has been put on hold due to settlement negotiations.
Neither Giray nor his Los Angeles-based lawyer, Peter Osinoff, would comment on this story.
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Erol Giray graduated from the University of Rochester School of Medicine in 1981. From New York state Giray and his then-wife Evelyn moved to Wisconsin, where they had a son and a daughter and Giray practiced privately. By 1995, the family was living in Arroyo Grande in a 2,700-square-foot, four-bedroom, three-bath house, in what Evelyn would describe in divorce proceedings as an "exclusive neighborhood."
In 1997, about a year after the couple's divorce was finalized, investigators with the California Medical Board say Giray had a patient build a $72,420 addition to that Arroyo Grande home. Investigators say that, when questioned, the patient could not prove Giray ever paid for the work and that the doctor kept no records of the patient's treatment or of any business transaction.
In March that same year, Giray started treating John (not his real name). According to court documents, John's wife was dying of cancer; she passed away in May. After that, John continued seeing Giray, and paying for his treatment with personal checks. Investigators say that at the time, Giray took few notes during their sessions and told his patient it was because he didn't want there to be "anything to track" if the records were subpoenaed.
By 2001, John had remarried. And his new wife, as the Medical Board put it, "possessed substantial wealth."
The Board says that's when Giray started urging John during their sessions to make "monetary gifts." Investigators estimate Giray asked John for money three or four times, and in return, John expressed concerns about the legality of such gifts and his conflicting feelings of trust and fear since Giray was his therapist.
"Notwithstanding his concerns, [John] obtained a cashier's check for $10,000 which he presented to Giray, [who] was angered when he learned that the check was traceable by the government," prosecutors said in court documents. "Giray then requested, and [John] provided, a personal check for $14,000.
"When [John] asked Giray about the legality of the payment, Giray stated that it was 'all how you look at it.'"
After getting the $14,000, Giray allegedly started pressuring John for $400,000 so the doctor could pay off his mortgage. The Medical Board says Giray asked John to give him the money as a gift so that Giray wouldn't have to pay taxes or pay money to his ex-wife. When John balked, Giray allegedly told him that John and his wife would get free therapy services for life.
John ultimately turned Giray down, but in September of 2001, when Giray allegedly asked for a specific model of car from Smith Volvo in San Luis Obispo, John withdrew a $29,000 cashier's check from his bank. Giray traded his Chevy Tracker in for $13,400 and John paid the rest of the sticker price. The car was then registered to Giray, investigators say.
By this point, the Medical Board says Giray stopped pressuring John to pay off his house. That's because it said he'd allegedly found another patient who was willing to do it instead.
In December 2001, a woman the Medical Board describes as a "wealthy, elderly patient" - who was also the mother of another local doctor - gave Giray a $390,000 "gift," which he allegedly used to pay off his home mortgage.
Investigators report that Giray allegedly destroyed the patient's records after he received that gift.
Dr. Paul Lombardo is the director of the Law and Medicine Program at the Center for Biomedical Ethics at the University of Virginia. He teaches at the university's law and medical schools; one of his classes is called "Law and Psychiatry."
Lombardo said that, obviously, patients and doctor's relationships are built on trust - not only because doctors have power by virtue of their training and experience, but also because their patients need help.
"They're vulnerable. And they rely on doctors to tell them how to get well," Lombardo said. "When that trust is exploited to the benefit of the doctor, then we get suspicious."
Because of that trust, he said, there are strict rules that dictate how a doctor interacts with a patient - whether it has to do with money, sex, or personal information: "The rules in the mental health world are even more stringent - precisely because there's the need for the patient to treat the therapist almost like a parent and to yield their innermost secrets," he said.
"There's a particular vulnerability in psychiatric practice." Â³
Staff Writer Abraham Hyatt can be reached at email@example.com.