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Doctor's controversial plea deal in sex abuse case came after suppressed evidence was found, lawyer says

An attorney for a former gynecologist accused of sex abuse attempted to shed light Thursday on a controversial plea deal that spared him from spending any time in prison.

Robert Hadden was charged September 9 with six federal sex abuse crimes, but he was previously charged in New York State court with sexually abusing other former patients. The 2016 plea agreement in the state case also included a stipulation downgrading Hadden's sex offender status to the lowest level, meaning he is not listed in New York State's online sex offender registry.

"I don't quite understand what happened there," federal judge Richard Berman said Thursday. He later added that he assumed "there was some sort of prosecutorial issue, perhaps a Brady violation, which resulted in — that there was no jail time, a so-called conditional discharge."

"Brady violation" refers to a circumstance in which prosecutors either purposely or inadvertently withhold evidence that could help a defendant's case.

State prosecutors charged Hadden in 2014 in connection to alleged assaults on half a dozen patients, and indicated they had investigated many more. In 2016, all but two charges were dropped. Hadden entered guilty pleas to criminal sex act in the third degree and forcible touching. 

Berman asked attorney Isabelle Kirshner, who represented Hadden in 2016 and is doing so in the new federal case, to explain the circumstances behind Hadden's plea agreement.

Kirshner said that in the three months before retiring in 2012, Hadden was required by his employer, Columbia University, to have a nurse "chaperone" with him at all times. Prosecutors later alleged that a patient was abused during those months.

Kirshner said prosecutors failed to give Hadden's defense team a one-page statement from the nurse "chaperone," which Kirshner said Thursday stated "that nothing inappropriate had occurred; [the nurse] had been present the entire time."

The lawyer said she discovered the missing evidence through a subpoena for Hadden's employee personnel files.

"At that point the government was asking for four years in custody," Kirshner told Berman Thursday. "And after our discussion in which we pointed out what appeared to be a deliberate attempt to hide this report, the prosecution agreed to a nonincarceratory sentence and that was how that worked. And so we resolved the case."

Asked to respond to Kirshner's characterization of the circumstances behind Hadden's plea agreement, Danny Frost, a spokesperson for the Manhattan District Attorney said, "We will decline to comment on allegations made by the defense team in this pending federal prosecution."

Hadden's case received renewed attention this year after Evelyn Yang, whose husband Andrew sought the Democratic nomination for president, said in a January interview with CNN that Hadden had assaulted her. Since then, at least 80 people have come forward with new allegations, according to Anthony DiPietro, an attorney who represents former Hadden patients in an ongoing lawsuit filed against Columbia University in 2017.

Hadden has denied all allegations outside of the two for which he entered guilty pleas in 2016.

Federal prosecutors charged Hadden on September 9 with six counts of enticing and inducing individuals to travel interstate to engage in illegal sexual activity. Each charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.

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