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Suspended Columbia University doctor sentenced for abusing former patient

A now-suspended Columbia University doctor and professor of pediatrics was sentenced Friday to a year of conditional discharge, and counseling, for sexually abusing a former patient.

A jury found Joel Lavine guilty in December of two counts of misdemeanor sexual abuse in the third degree. Lavine, a former vice chair of the university's department of pediatrics, was accused of abusing a young woman in 2019 who for years as a teenager had been his patient. The Columbia Spectator first reported Lavine's conviction.

The former patient addressed Lavine in court Friday, saying, "In hindsight I see how you groomed me for years since I was a minor in your care."

She said the abuse had a profound, long-lasting impact on her life, affecting her personal relationships, career and health.

"I have significant problems I need addressing but I would still rather be sick than ever again go to a doctor like you," she said.

Joel Lavine

The maximum sentence for the top charge is three months in jail. At Friday's sentencing hearing, a New York City prosecutor said that the woman Lavine abused did not want him jailed, and he will instead be mandated to attend three months of weekly counseling sessions.

The judge also issued an order of protection for the former patient, barring Lavine from contacting her for two months.

The former patient said during Friday's hearing that in addition to court-ordered counseling and the order of protection, she wanted Lavine to apologize.

But given the opportunity, Lavine did not apologize.

Lavine declined an opportunity to address the court and the woman he abused. Asked later by the judge if he understood the order of protection, Lavine said, "I've made no attempt in the last three years (to contact her) and I won't in the next, forever."

Lavine's attorney said he will appeal the conviction, and said, "the consequences of these allegations have been devastating for Dr. Lavine."

The former patient also had harsh words for Columbia University and its hospital systems, accusing them of "failing to address (Lavine's) behavior."

"At so many points you and your career were prioritized over me," she said.

Manhattan prosecutor Mimi Mairs said during the hearing that as the district attorney's investigation was progressing, a separate Columbia University Title IX sex discrimination probe into unrelated allegations found that Lavine also violated a colleague's rights.

Mairs said Columbia did not learn of the criminal accusations against Lavine until long after his arrest, when his personnel file was subpoenaed by the district attorney's office.

"The defendant chose to conceal from his employers that he had been indicted on sex crimes involving a former patient," Mairs said.

A Columbia University spokesperson said in a statement to CBS News Friday that Lavine was "immediately suspended" when the university learned in December 2019 of his arrest. The spokesperson said the university is "taking action to end his tenure and sever all ties." 

"The abhorrent conduct that the victim experienced and spoke about today in court goes against everything we believe in at Columbia. We are committed to working with the relevant oversight authorities to ensure that Lavine never practices medicine again," the spokesperson said.

Mairs said a state board is conducting a medical misconduct investigation and "awaiting certificate of conviction." 

The former patient said at the hearing that she hopes Lavine will be unable to practice medicine again in the future. She said she debated for months before coming forward.

"I felt morally compelled to be that person who I wish was there for me," she said.

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