University officials give their reaction to surgeon’s acquittal

Shannon Hahn

In response to the acquittal of Dr. John Najarian, University officials said at a press conference Wednesday that they stand by their investigation of the former chief of surgery.
“In light of today’s verdict in St. Paul, the question is: ‘Would we do it all again?’ ” University President Nils Hasselmo said. “The answer is: ‘Absolutely. We would do it all again. We would have to do it all again.’ “
Najarian was acquitted on 15 federal counts of embezzlement, tax evasion and obstruction of justice. Earlier charges, relating to the use and sale of Najarian’s anti-rejection drug ALG were dismissed by a judge on Feb. 13.
University officials released the results of investigations into the ALG program and the Department of Surgery in October 1993 and March 1995. The investigations concluded that the ALG program seriously violated federal drug study rules and that federal grant funds had been misused. Much of the blame for these actions was laid at Najarian’s feet.
Najarian was acquitted of crimes charged by the federal government, Hasselmo said. The University didn’t take him to court, and his acquittal doesn’t mean he is not guilty of academic misconduct or violating rules that protect human research subjects, he added.
The University was upholding its standards through its investigations, Hasselmo said. Those standards govern research and education as well as protect human life and the public’s money, he added.
The University insists that its research standards be followed to the letter, Hasselmo said. “Any researcher who ignores those standards — John Doe or John Najarian — must be accountable.”
“Expense accounts are not personal piggy banks,” Hasselmo said, “Najarian admitted in court that he double-dipped.” Hasselmo was referring to Najarian’s practice of seeking and receiving dual reimbursements for travel expenses.
That can’t be allowed when taxpayers money is involved, Hasselmo said.
Academic Health Center Provost William Brody said before the press conference that it remains to be seen what the acquittal means for the University. But for the University Hospital, Najarian’s acquittal is a positive development, he said. The acquittal means a jury and a judge agree that the University Hospital conducted itself in an appropriate manner while trying to provide the best care possible, he said.
On a personal level, Brody said, he is happy for Najarian. “The whole sequence has been a tragedy for him and the University.”
Dr. Bryan Neel, vice chairman of the Board of Regents, said at the press conference that he agreed with Hasselmo that the University was right in conducting its investigations.
As a doctor, Neel added, he was bothered by discoveries of violations of research rules found in investigations of Najarian’s anti-rejection drug ALG.
The rules are there to protect patients, Neel said. “No research university worthy of that designation could operate without strict ethical standards.”
Carl Adams, chairman of the Faculty Consultative Committee, said he thinks Najarian’s trial was a tragedy.
He said he believes most faculty would agree when he says the University did the right thing. “We are all bound by the same internal code. … They are reasonable rules. I hope the jury’s verdict will not confuse this point in the mind of anyone inside or outside of the University.”
Medical School Dean Frank Cerra said he has not considered whether Najarian would be reconsidered for a position as a research and teaching professor at the University. Najarian stepped down from his teaching position in 1995.