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Trial begins in doctor’s lawsuit against UNM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — When Dr. Cynthia Herald told her supervisors that she’d been raped by a colleague, the University of New Mexico chose to retaliate against her rather than investigating those allegations, Herald’s attorney told Albuquerque jurors Tuesday.

Herald alleges in a civil lawsuit against the university she was raped by another resident in 2009, and faced retaliation — and was ultimately dismissed from the residency program — after bringing the assault to the school’s attention.

Lorna Wiggins, an attorney for UNM, said Herald was terminated by the university in an effort to protect patients, and that she’d once shown up to work impaired. She emphasized that the attack took place off campus and after hours.

A second trial in Herald’s case began Tuesday before Judge Shannon Bacon following a day of jury selection. Herald lost a first trial in 2013, but successfully appealed a ruling made by a District Court judge.

In her opening statement, Randi McGinn, one of Herald’s attorneys, said her client initially decided not to report the attack because she worried it might impact her career, and instead, she told a handful of people and sought medical attention. But months later, she told a senior resident about the assault in hopes that she might help Herald avoid working with him. Soon after that, three male supervisors questioned Herald about the allegations. McGinn said during that meeting, Herald was asked to keep quiet because word of the attack could impact the program’s reputation.

But Wiggins said Herald was never asked to keep quiet because news of the assault was “already out there.”

After that meeting, McGinn said, Herald’s once excellent reviews began to slip.

McGinn said Herald was taking sleep and anxiety medications at home, and was “hung over” from that medication during a shift in May 2010. A drug test later showed she had Ativan in her system.

Wiggins said nurses noticed that day that Herald was impaired in the operating room. And she said that wasn’t the only time when Herald’s “lack of professionalism jeopardized patient safety.”

“Did the university unlawfully retaliate,” Wiggins said, “or did the university simply act to protect its patients from a dangerous doctor with an untreated addiction?”