Straight from the seriously? news category comes the news that Republican representative Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee has been fined $500 — yes only $500 — for sexual misconduct. On Thursday the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners handed down the fine and a reprimand following a complaint filed last year that DesJarlais slept with patients while he was a physician more than a decade ago. He was also asked to pay $1,000 to cover the costs of prosecuting the case. In a statement, DesJarlais said, "I take responsibility for past mistakes and am happy to get this resolved."
Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), however, says that the fine amounts to nothing more than a slap on the wrist. As she argues, "There are more expensive traffic tickets. Tennessee authorities apparently believe sexual exploitation of women is less serious than speeding." If the Board felt that there was no substance to the complaints then surely it would have just dismissed them. Instead, even though they held that he had broken the law, they simply decided on this paltry and demeaning fine.
The complaints against DesJarlais, brought by CREW, relate to allegations that he pressured a woman into getting an abortion after he slept with her, and that he prescribed unnecessary pain medication to another woman, whom he was also dating. He was fined $250 for each allegation. In 2012 the Board fined another doctor $500 for not paying her professional privilege taxes. Apparently not paying some of your taxes is just as bad as committing sexual misconduct.
DesJarlais does not deny the allegations, but argues that they are politically motivated, given that they only surfaced following his election victory in 2012. Sloan, however, argues that the reason for the delay is that DesJarlais actions had stayed private until recently. The allegations surfaced when records of his 2001 divorce trial became public last year.
"Tennessee law strictly prohibits such conduct and possible penalties include restrictions on a physician's practice, suspension, and revocation of his medical license. No such penalties were imposed on Rep. DesJarlais. Despite the fact that Rep. DesJarlais's conduct is a clear-cut violation of Tennessee law, state authorities gave him a pass. Let's hope the Office of Congressional Ethics, which is also considering a complaint against Rep. DesJarlais, takes a dimmer view of his outrageous misconduct."
While DesJarlais says that the Board has largely absolved him of responsibility, it did find that he had violated several state laws and that his conduct was unprofessional. But still it come out with such a weak punishment. Did he only sleep with them a little bit? Did he only encourage them to get an abortion just a little bit? Elected official or not, surely DesJarlais conduct is deserving of more than what essentially amounts of a speeding fine or a fine for failing to pay tax.
The Board has said that it took its decision "in order to protect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of the State of Tennessee and ensure that the public confidence in the integrity of the medical profession is preserved." Instead, however, it has done the opposite.