It's been an eventful few years for Dr. Robert Pedowitz.
He came to UCLA to head its orthopedic surgery department in 2009, stepped down as chair in 2010 after complaining about conflicts of interest and industry payments to its doctors, resigned in 2011, filed a whistleblower-retaliation lawsuit against the school in 2012 and settled for $10 million on Tuesday.
The school admitted no wrong.
Pedowitz joined UCLA just months after U.S. Senator Charles Grassley, (R-Iowa), criticized the school for the behavior of spine center chief Dr. Jeffrey Wang, who received an undisclosed $459,500 between 2004 and 2007 from Medtronic, Bone Biologics, FzioMed and the DePuy unit of Johnson & Johnson. The Los Angeles Times reported that Wang, who is no longer with the school, is currently being sued for fraud and malpractice for surgeries related to Medtronic's controversial Infuse bone graft. More than 1,000 people around the country are suing the company over it.
Grassley's criticism came during a congressional investigation of financial conflicts of interest in medical research at universities. Big schools usually run their own internal review boards, although a few employ independent monitoring, and they would like to keep it that way.
Conflicts of interest in higher education are an easy target for investigators, congressional or otherwise. Corporations spend hundreds of millions of dollars on buildings, naming rights for said buildings, research programs, endowments, consulting gigs for professors and myriad other relationship-building activities. Finding sympathetic ears and cooperative doctors, not to mention attentive lawmakers, is not difficult.
Pedowitz came to UCLA from the South Florida College of Medicine, where he was chairman of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery for a short while. He was previously a professor, chief of sports medicine and director of orthopedic residency at the University of California, San Diego.
Shortly after arriving, Pedowitz sent memos to university officials complaining that widespread financial ties between doctors and companies compromised patient care and jeopardized medical research. He named names then and later in his lawsuit against the UC Board of Regents and several UCLA doctors in May 2012.
Dr. Nick Shamie, an orthopedic surgeon who received $250,000 in unreported money from Medtronic, and Dr. David McAllister, vice chairman of clinical operations for the orthopedic surgery department who got money quietly from Musculoskeletal Transplant Foundation, were both cited in court proceedings.
Pedowitz also alleged that doctors conspired to do him harm for his actions by circulating incorrect information about his employment history, denying him patient referrals and interfering with other professional activities.
The university denied it all, said it had policies and procedures in place and maintained it settled just to avoid the costs of further litigation.
The trial last six weeks and a settlement was reached just before its conclusion in Los Angeles County Superior Court.