NEW YORK (AP) — Jurors hearing evidence Monday against a former New York gynecologist accused of sexually abusing nearly 150 patients can “cancel” and “condemn him,” but they should acquit him of federal charges that he enticed women to cross state lines to be abused because he didn’t know where they were coming from, his lawyer said in an opening statement.
Defense attorney Deirdre Von Dornum told jurors as the Manhattan trial of Robert Hadden, 64, got underway that her client pleaded guilty to state charges seven years ago, admitting that he had sexually abused patients. She said he has not treated patients in the last decade.
“The allegations are awful and shocking,” she said, warning jurors that she was not encouraging them to feel sorry for Hadden and telling them that they should listen carefully to the women who will testify about being abused and hear what they say.
She said the “question is not whether inappropriate activity or sexual abuse happened.”
Instead, she said jurors should focus on the “specific, technical crime” he is charged with: whether he knowingly induced, persuaded or coerced patients to cross state lines to be sexually abused. The four women highlighted by trial evidence had traveled from New Jersey, Las Vegas and from Rockland County, New York, just north of the city, through New Jersey.
Von Dornum said there would be no evidence that he knew in advance which patient he was scheduled to see on which days.
“Cancel, condemn him,” the lawyer urged, before adding: “Do not convict him for a crime he did not commit.”
Von Dornum addressed jurors after Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Monteleoni told them they would hear how Hadden sexually abused the four women.
The indictment said the abuse took place at medical offices and Manhattan hospitals while Hadden worked as a physician at Columbia University and at New York Presbyterian Hospital. The two institutions have agreed to pay more than $165 million to 147 former patients abused by Hadden.
Monteleoni also described the guilty plea in state court by Hadden, saying he admitted during his plea that his abuse was not accidental and had no valid medical purpose.
The Englewood, New Jersey, resident was arrested on the federal charges in 2020 after prosecutors accused him of sexually abusing young and unsuspecting patients for over two decades. He has remained free on $1 million bail.
Prosecutors have described Hadden as a “predator in a white coat,” accusing him of singling out young and unsuspecting victims, including a young girl he had delivered at birth.
Monteleoni told jurors that several of Hadden’s victims will testify during the trial, along with nurses who said they witnessed Hadden touching patients inappropriately.
The prosecutor said the victims had undergone “experiences, in some cases, they couldn’t talk about for years; experiences that scarred them.”
He added: “These victims would give anything for this not to have happened.”
“Objection!” Von Dornum shouted.
“Overruled,” Judge Richard M. Berman responded.
Monteleoni urged a conviction of a doctor he said had assaulted “patient after patient, year after year.”