March 19, 2013

Former University of Iowa surgeon allowed to resign quietly after dispute, records show

A once-prominent University of Iowa surgeon was stripped of key duties after a messy disciplinary dispute with the school and then allowed to quietly resign a year later, according to a settlement agreement released Monday after a two-year fight for access by The Associated Press (AP).

The AP had asked for copies of resignation agreements and similar deals made with College of Medicine employees during a time when the school’s handling of faculty disciplinary issues was in the spotlight. The surgeon fought the release of documents related to him by filing a lawsuit in February 2011 that listed him only as “John Doe.”

The agreement identifies the former employee as surgeon John Chaloupka, an expert in treating brain aneurysms who directed interventional neuroradiology at UI Hospitals and Clinics. Chaloupka now works in a similar, high-level position at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, Fla. Chaloupka and his attorney, Philip Mears, of Iowa City, did not immediately return messages left Monday by the AP.

The document does not fully answer questions about why Chaloupka left the university in June 2011, shortly after filing a legal affidavit supporting a discrimination lawsuit filed by a fellow professor in which Chaloupka called their boss a racially insensitive liar. In a later deposition given during a medical malpractice case, Chaloupka said he left Iowa because he was “getting worn down by the winters and wanted to live in a warmer climate.”

The settlement shows Chaloupka agreed not to make “disparaging remarks” about the university and that he and university officials agreed they would say only that he left to pursue another opportunity. It also says three other university doctors, John Buatti, Matthew Howard, and David Hasan, would not disparage Chaloupka. Buatti and Hasan didn’t immediately respond to phone messages left Monday. Howard’s office said he would not be available to comment.

The document shows that Chaloupka was allowed to keep his $380,000 per-year salary for the 2010-2011 academic year, even though he was moved to a non-clinical position, with a different office and no access to the university’s clinical computer records. He went from being a tenured full professor in radiology and director of the neurointerventional radiology division to a professor in the anatomy department and a research professor in radiology.

The agreement calls for Chaloupka to get a $100,000 bonus if he left before Dec. 31, 2010 — but he did not collect that.

The university released the record after the Iowa Supreme Court earlier this month rejected Chaloupka’s request to hear the case, exhausting his legal options to keep it secret after two lower courts had ordered the release to the AP.

The AP sought the document, and others, after the university’s medical school was criticized for moving too slowly to cut ties with a doctor who faked his own stabbing in Chicago and was investigated for viewing child pornography. At the time, the school also was in the midst of a dispute with radiology professor Malik Juweid, who was fired last year for harassing behavior and has returned to his native Jordan.

District Judge Thomas Reidel ruled in February 2012 that the settlement with Chaloupka was public under Iowa’s public records law and said taxpayers had a right to know the details. He said the provision for a $100,000 bonus for Chaloupka’s prompt departure “dangles a carrot” that was of interest to taxpayers.

He rejected Chaloupka’s argument that the document wasn’t a “settlement agreement” — which are public in Iowa — but rather a personnel record that should be confidential under state law. The judge noted the document is titled “Settlement Agreement and General Release” and was meant to resolve the parties’ disputes.

“The public has a right to know about arrangements governmental bodies make for the expenditure of public funds,” Reidel wrote.

The Iowa Court of Appeals ruled upheld Reidel’s ruling in January. During the appeal, Chaloupka argued that he expected the settlement would remain secret when he signed it, and that its public release may affect his relationships with colleagues and ability to get future employment. But the court said a balancing test considering Chaloupka’s privacy rights against the public’s need to know favored disclosure.

“We conclude the gravity of the invasion into plaintiff’s personal privacy does not exceed the public’s interest in the use of public funds,” Judge David Danilson wrote for a unanimous three-member panel.


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