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Attorney permitted to review doctor's medical history

A lawyer wants to know if his client's doctor had an alcohol problem at the time of an operation the client says injured him.

The attorney representing a man who says his penis was damaged in a botched operation three years ago claimed Wednesday that the doctor has been treated for alcohol addiction and may have been impaired when he performed the operation.

Circuit Judge Maynard Swanson on Wednesday agreed to let Orlando attorney Daniel Riveiro review the doctor's medical history and hunt for any possible incidents reflected in his records that would indicate a pattern of alcohol abuse before the operation.

The attorney did not present any evidence Wednesday proving his claims.

Riveiro represents Rafael F. Arias, 34, in a suit against Dr. Jordan Baum, Dr. Pavitar Cheema and the Zephyrhills-based Florida Medical Clinic, accusing Baum of serious errors during what was supposed to have been a routine urological procedure in April 1996. As a result, Arias says he suffered permanent damage.

Riveiro said Wednesday in a public court hearing that he has learned Baum spent six weeks this year in alcohol abuse treatment. If he finds proof that Baum let alcohol interfere with his job and his judgment, the attorney said, that would prove the doctor and the clinic were reckless and could lead to substantial punitive damages, in addition to the compensation Arias seeks for the damage to his body.

"If Dr. Baum has hidden these conditions, they are definitely relevant," Riveiro said. "We need to look at the records and determine if he was impaired."

Baum and his attorney, Christopher Schulte, did not return calls for comment Wednesday, although Schulte fought to keep reporters out of Wednesday's hearing.

Florida Medical Clinic chief executive officer Joe Delatorre said he stands behind Baum's work and is looking forward to putting the case before a jury.

"Dr. Baum has been an outstanding physician in our practice," Delatorre said.

The use of alcohol or drugs before an operation "has never been an issue in this case, to the best of my knowledge," he said.

In a response to the lawsuit, filed in Circuit Court last year, Baum's attorney said Arias is responsible for the damage.

"Plaintiff was himself careless and negligent by failing to follow the instructions given to him," the response states.

According to the suit, Arias was in pain and running a fever after the operation and noticed the incisions were not healing properly.

The suit claims Arias tried to contact Baum, but the doctor's office postponed his follow-up visit. Before his rescheduled appointment, Arias ended up in a hospital emergency room, where he said he waited two hours for Baum to arrive, and when Baum did, the doctor was rude to him and said he was late for a meeting.

In a deposition this year, Baum said he was trying to make it on time to a motorcycle riding course for instruction that morning.

In the same deposition, Baum said he chose urology as a specialty because "You could usually help people, it afforded you a good lifestyle. And there weren't all the emergencies that general surgery had."

Arias claims he went to see Cheema later, but that doctor did not correct the damage done in surgery. It wasn't until he saw a Gainesville specialist that he received necessary treatment, according to the lawsuit.

Schulte tried to close the hearing to the public Tuesday and asked for a one-day delay while he researched the issue. On Wednesday, he argued that discussing allegations of Baum's use of alcohol or other substances would damage the doctor's reputation, regardless of the veracity of the allegations.

"By discussing these matters, Dr. Baum will be injured by having these matters disclosed to the public," Schulte argued.

St. Petersburg Times attorney Alison Steele argued that the public has a right to follow a case in public court.

Swanson agreed the hearing would remain open and denied Schulte's bid to have the entire case delayed until he could appeal the ruling to a higher court.

The judge ruled that Riveiro could review Baum's medical records before the operation. The judge said he would review the records in the years since the operation and decide if there is any material that would be pertinent.

Riveiro said he has not set how much money Arias would seek in the case, but the court file indicates a $500,000 settlement offer was on the table at one time but the defense rejected it.