Doctor's sexual-assault trial to begin
It has been more than 1 1/2 years since he was charged, and the trial has been moved 160 miles from where the alleged crime took place, but the guilt or innocence of a Duluth physician accused of sexually assaulting a patient will be decided by a...
It has been more than 1½ years since he was charged, and the trial has been moved 160 miles from where the alleged crime took place, but the guilt or innocence of a Duluth physician accused of sexually assaulting a patient will be decided by a jury in Menomonie, Wis., this week.
Jury selection starts Monday in Dunn County Circuit Court in the trial of Dr. Javier De La Garza, who is charged with third-degree sexual assault.
The defendant is accused of having sexual intercourse with a woman patient without her consent on her parents' boat at Barker's Island Marina on Sept. 27, 2006.
The trial could take all week and will be presided over by Douglas County Circuit Judge Michael Lucci, who moved the trial from Superior after ruling that extensive news coverage of the case made it difficult for the defendant to get a fair trial there.
Douglas County prosecutor James Boughner declined to comment on the case Friday. Neither De La Garza, nor his Superior attorney, Rick Gondik, returned phone calls seeking comment.
According to the criminal complaint: The alleged victim told a Duluth police investigator that she was referred to De La Garza by her primary-care physician because she had experienced episodes of severe abdominal pain and bloating for about 10 years.
The woman said that during her first appointments, De La Garza would press her abdomen when she was fully clothed. Over time, the defendant would ask his patient to unbutton her pants and pull up her shirt to give him access to the area where the pain was occurring. The woman said that during her regular monthly examinations, De La Garza began digitally probing her sexual organs. She said the doctor said he was feeling those areas for lymph nodes.
During one alleged extended probing of her sexual organs, the woman said De La Garza told her "Bless your soul, bless your soul." The woman said she told the doctor that his touching was making her very uncomfortable. She said De La Garza responded by saying, "This is very hard to diagnose."
A gastroenterologist is a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, including the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, pancreas, liver and gallbladder.
The woman said she had told the doctor that her parents had a boat and De La Garza said he would like to see the boat. The woman agreed to show it to him.
The woman met De La Garza at Barker's Island Marina. She said the doctor didn't seem very interested in the boat, but suggested that as long as they were there he might as well give her a brief examination.
They went below in the cabin of the boat, where the woman said a sexual assault took place. She said she started crying and shaking and De La Garza responded by saying: "Bless your soul, bless your soul."
Five other women patients of De La Garza have claimed that he touched them inappropriately. But Lucci granted a defense motion that the allegations of those women should not be referred to before the Dunn County jury.
The court ruled that the testimony of the other women would confuse the case in which De La Garza is criminally charged and would be prejudicial against him.
Four of the other women have brought civil lawsuits against the doctor claiming he engaged in harmful, offensive and illegal sexual contact with them with no reasonable medical purpose. They allege they suffered and continue to suffer physical pain, humiliation, mental anguish, anxiety and emotional distress. Those cases are pending.