Santa Clara County fires doctor who worked with foster children after allegations of sexual molestation

The longtime chief pediatrician for abused and neglected children in Santa Clara County has been removed from his post, following repeated allegations that he sexually molested children in his care.
Dr. Patrick Clyne has not been arrested, but San Jose police investigated him twice, in 2001 and again last year, and came to believe there was support for some of the accusations, according to sources close to the inquiries.
Clyne, a well-regarded physician who has worked with foster care patients here since 1996, denies any wrongdoing.
"I haven't done anything to deserve this," said Clyne, 49, who has been a foster parent for four boys in addition to caring for thousands in his job at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. "I've worked in San Jose for the past 16 years and I've never had an interaction with a kid that was inappropriate or unprofessional in those 16 years -- or at any time in my life."
Clyne's March 10 dismissal has generated outcry in the close-knit foster care community, where many think he is being unfairly punished without the opportunity to defend himself. Clyne inspires devotion in part because of his personal circumstances. He is a paraplegic who conquered his disability to become a doctor of uncommon dedication to an extraordinarily challenging group of patients.
But Clyne's story raises other questions as well, including whether hospital officials took appropriate precautions before returning Clyne to work
an issue which has prompted some soul-searching among county leaders since the second set of complaints emerged.
Given the sensitivity of Clyne's situation, no one with direct knowledge of the investigations or his termination is willing to talk publicly. But according to sources close to the police investigations, questions first arose about Clyne in 2001, five years after he was hired. One of Clyne's own foster children accused him of abuse, and a subsequent inquiry discovered other alleged victims.
The 2001 case was brought to a grand jury by the Santa Clara County District Attorney's office, according to Clyne and law enforcement sources, but did not result in an indictment. Officials would not say why the allegations did not lead to charges, and the grand jury's proceedings are confidential.
But sources familiar with the inquiry confirmed that a second set of complaints surfaced in 2009, prompting an investigation that involved allegations from multiple patients of Clyne's, of both genders. Altogether, sources said, five to 10 potential victims surfaced during the two inquiries.
Both sets of allegations resulted in temporary suspensions of Clyne's duties -- at the county hospital and at his office in the Children's Intake and Receiving Center, the first stop for children removed from their homes by social workers who suspect abuse or neglect. Clyne confirmed that both times he was placed on paid administrative leave after being informed that the police department's sexual assault unit was investigating him: in 2001 for three months, and again from November 2009 to December 2010, until the second investigation was closed.
Clyne said he knows specifics only of the original 2001 allegation against him, which he blamed on a foster child in his care who sought revenge after Clyne turned him in to juvenile authorities for drinking and drug use. Clyne said he was never interviewed by police, and following each investigation was cleared by county officials to return to work.
But Clyne's employment status shifted last month. That was when the district attorney took the rare action of placing the doctor on what is known internally as a "Brady List." The list is named for a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision that requires prosecutors to divulge to defense attorneys any "impeachable" information about court witnesses.
The district attorney's office uses a standard of "substantial evidence" of wrongdoing to place a person on the list -- which mostly includes police officers who have faced misconduct allegations and may be called to testify in court. That is a lower standard than is required to bring criminal charges. An internal committee decides eligibility.
Clyne has occasionally testified in child abuse cases. The district attorney is now reviewing cases where Clyne appeared as a witness, and it is possible defense attorneys could use the allegations about Clyne to challenge convictions.
After being informed of Clyne's placement on the Brady List, the county executive's office decided to terminate him from his $177,000-a-year job, Clyne confirmed. Because he was an "at-will employee" with no formal contract, he could be let go with no explanation.
Since then, dozens of foster parents have risen up to defend Clyne, writing letters to county officials and even rallying at a public meeting in his defense. They share anecdotes about his extraordinary level of service -- home visits, and 24/7 access through cellphone or email. Clyne has spoken with many of them about the allegations, and they have expressed sympathy, saying the hazard is endemic when working with severely damaged kids.
"They throw out allegations like a tin can, it's how they express their anger and hurt," said Dawn Haddaway, president of the Santa Clara County Kinship, Adoptive & Foster Parent Association. Haddaway's foster children have been Clyne's patients, and as a longtime caregiver specializing in behaviorally challenged young boys, she says she has been the subject of three allegations of physical abuse, all deemed unfounded. "That's par for the course when you work with hard kids," she said.
But while Clyne's allies question the veracity of the allegations against him, other questions have emerged regarding the county hospital's handling of Clyne following the allegations.
After the initial investigation in 2001 and again in 2010, Clyne was returned to his job. No restrictions were placed on his ability to interact with his patients until days before he was let go, even though some experts recommend that doctors who have received complaints of improper behavior be provided with chaperones during sensitive exams for the protection of both doctor and patient. What's more, in 2002, the county social services agency greenlighted his adoption of a foster youth, now 26 and still living with Clyne, who is unmarried.
And even after he was terminated, Clyne did not lose -- and to this day retains -- admitting and treating privileges at the county hospital, following a 2010 review and decision by 20 hospital department heads, Clyne said. Nor has he been reported to the Medical Board of California.
Dr. Catherine Albin, Clyne's former supervisor who is now chief of inpatient pediatrics at Kaiser-Santa Clara, said she felt "entirely comfortable" with the 2001 decision to lift Clyne's suspension. She said she understood the problems Clyne was having at the time with the foster child who accused him, and she insisted that the teenager later recanted the accusation against Clyne.
However, Albin acknowledged that her only source on the alleged recanting was Clyne; she did not discuss the matter with law enforcement. Clyne said he was told his accuser had recanted by another foster child who is now dead.
The sources close to the investigation deny the accusation was recanted.
In a recent interview at his Almaden Valley home, Clyne described feeling tarred. Beside him was a copy of "The Gift of Peace" by Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, a memoir detailing, in part, the cardinal's struggle with a false allegation of sexual misconduct.
"I've gone this far with no forum where I can say: 'You tell me what you think I did, and I can tell you I didn't do it,'"‰" Clyne said. "Whatever the allegation is, it isn't true."
By many accounts, Clyne is an extraordinary physician. He voluntarily built his patient base to include mostly foster children whose needs can be daunting and complex -- from traumatic brain injury to prenatal drug and alcohol exposure.
In his second year of medical residency, Clyne, during a rock-climbing trip on the Appalachian Trail, fell 20 feet to the edge of a cliff after a portion of a trail gave way, severing his spinal cord. After eight months of rehabilitation, paralyzed from the waist down, he completed his residency in a wheelchair.
Clyne completed a fellowship at Stanford University before accepting the job at Valley Medical Center, where he estimates as many as three-quarters of his patients were in foster care. He has served on the local child abuse council, and in 2007, he was honored by the San Jose-based Legal Advocates for Children and Youth for his dedication to the needs of foster children and caregivers.
Hospital officials would not discuss Clyne's professional collapse. But in an email to county colleagues, pediatric department chairman Dr. Stephen Harris said Clyne will be difficult to replace. Harris said Clyne extended his services "voluntarily, as a calling, and it was this extraordinary accessibility that so endeared him to the foster care community."
However, hospital officials also acknowledge that children's welfare must take precedence over physicians' rights.
"I feel for the county, I feel for him, I feel for the whole system," Albin said. "There may be no truth with a capital T. That's the sadness of it -- there is no winner here. This isn't a case of justice."