NEW PORT RICHEY — At one point, prosecutors were ready to put a half-dozen women on the witness stand to testify that Dr. Gunwant Dhaliwal groped them during exams in his office.
Dhaliwal, a board-certified internist who owns walk-in clinics in New Port Richey and Spring Hill, was charged with misdemeanor battery against two women who said he grabbed their breasts.
When those allegations came to light in 2007, other former patients came forward to say similar things happened to them. In most of those cases, the statute of limitations had expired and no charges could be filed. But prosecutors hoped their testimony could be used to support the claims made by the two victims.
That is, until a county judge ruled that those other women couldn't testify.
So when Dhaliwal went to trial in one of the battery cases Tuesday, it was just his word against the victim's.
The woman, now 25, said she went to Gulf View Walk-In Clinic on State Road 54 on May 30, 2007, the morning after a car crash when she was having pain on her left side. As she complained of a bruise on her arm, she said, Dhaliwal pushed her back on the exam table, lifted her shirt and grabbed her breasts inside her bra.
Dhaliwal, 51, took the witness stand and flatly said none of that ever happened.
"I did not lift her shirt and I did not touch her breasts," said Dhaliwal, who is married with two children.
The state had no physical evidence to support the woman's claim, and the jury knew nothing of the other women's allegations.
But after deliberating about 90 minutes, the panel found Dhaliwal guilty and County Judge Anne Wansboro sentenced him to 10 days in jail and court fines.
He must return to court today to face trial on the second battery charge. That victim says she was seeking a job with Dhaliwal in February 2007 and she went to his office so he could demonstrate a facial skin treatment she would be performing. As he did so, she says, he put his hand up her shirt and fondled her breasts.
Perhaps the more serious matter for Dhaliwal is what could happen to his medical license. His attorney, David Parry, said state licensing authorities investigated the groping claims and dismissed them. But now that Dhaliwal has been convicted, they can and likely will reopen their case.
"This could jeopardize his whole life and his whole career," Parry said.
Dhaliwal is also facing two civil suits brought by the women — a fact that came out in the criminal trial Tuesday.
The first woman, who is not being identified because of the nature of the crime, acknowledged to Parry that she is seeking monetary damages from Dhaliwal.
She also said that after the doctor groped her and walked out of the room, she followed him to the front desk, paid her bill, got her medications and made a follow-up appointment. She never went back.
Assistant State Attorney Chris Sprowls asked her why she didn't fight off Dhaliwal or yell when he touched her against her will.
"I was embarrassed, I was shocked. I wasn't sure who to tell," she said. "I just wanted to get out of there as fast as I could."
Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6245.