Former UCLA Health gynecologist James Heaps appeals sexual battery conviction
Former UCLA Health gynecologist James Heaps is pictured in court. Heaps was recently sentenced to serve 11 years in prison following convictions on multiple counts of sexual battery.
(Christine Kao/Daily Bruin staff)
By Justin Jung
May 4, 2023 11:37 p.m.
Former UCLA Health gynecologist James Heaps is appealing his sexual battery and penetration convictions.
Heaps – who was sentenced to 11 years in prison April 26 – is appealing on the basis that the trial court may have erred in procedure and denied Heaps a fair trial, his attorney Leonard Levine said.
On Oct. 20, a jury found Heaps guilty on five counts of sex crimes, acquitted on seven and was hung on nine.
The former David Geffen School of Medicine faculty member practiced with UCLA from 1989 until 2018. He has faced more than 500 lawsuits for his conduct with patients, and the UC has reached around $700 million in settlements with victims over these sexual misconduct cases.
If the state Courts of Appeal find that Heaps did not receive a fair trial, his conviction would be overturned, resulting in the possibility of a new trial. The appeals process will take about two years to complete, Levine said.
“There are numerous issues that we believe the Court of Appeal should consider, and basically, it’s every aspect of the case that we think should have been handled differently,” Levine said. “He’s going to exercise all of his appellate rights, which may involve all of the evidence introduced and all of the evidence that was not.”
Regardless of whether the appeals court overturns Heaps’ conviction, Heaps may have to stand trial again as the prosecutor may choose to retry the nine felony charges that the jury hung on. The prosecutor’s office is expected to make its decision on retrial by an upcoming restitution hearing Aug. 7.
Heaps may face an additional 12 years and four months of prison time if convicted on all nine counts, said Darren Kavinoky, an attorney representing Heaps’ accusers.
On Thursday, the trial court will hear Heaps’ motion for bail on appeal, which, if granted, would permit his release until the completion of his appellate proceedings.
In its decision, the court will consider whether Heaps is a current danger to the public and a flight risk, Levine said.
Levine and the lawyers representing Heaps’ accusers disagreed on whether Heaps meets these two conditions for release. Levine said Heaps should receive bail because he is no longer a licensed physician and has offered to stay under house arrest with electronic monitoring.
Those conditions for release are not enough to mitigate the risk for victims, and the recent sentence of 11 years presents a newfound motivation for Heaps to flee, Kavinoky said.
Jennifer McGrath, an attorney who jointly represented hundreds of Heaps’ accusers with Kavinoky, said she believes Judge Michael D. Carter presided over Heaps’ trial fairly and the jury verdict shouldn’t be overturned.
“We view it as justice finally served after many years,” McGrath said. “He was first arrested four years ago, almost exactly, and that’s a long, long time to not know what his fate would be in terms of the criminal case,”
UCLA Health spokesperson Phil Hampton said in an emailed statement that the organization does not tolerate sexual misconduct.
“UCLA Health is grateful for the patients who came forward. Sexual misconduct of any kind is reprehensible and intolerable. Our overriding priority is providing the highest quality care while ensuring that patients feel safe, protected and respected,” Hampton said in the statement.