University of California reaches a $73M settlement against former gynecologist accused of sexual misconduct

Dr. James Heaps is taken into custody in Los Angeles in August.

(CNN)The University of California system has reached a $73 million settlement Monday with alleged victims of sexual abuse by a former obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. James Heaps.

Heaps had worked part-time as a gynecologist at the University of California, Los Angeles's (UCLA) student health center from about 1983 to 2010, and was hired by UCLA Health in 2014. He was arrested in June 2019 and charged with sexual battery of two former patients in 2017 and 2018, to which he pleaded not guilty.
The preliminary settlement, which must be approved by a federal judge, requires UCLA to create a fund to pay as many as 6,600 victims participating in the class-action lawsuit filed by seven women. The settlement also requires UCLA to pay all attorneys' fees or litigation expenses separately.
Under the settlement, "all class members will receive a $2,500 base payment to compensate them for the common injury each suffered when UCLA exposed them to an OB/GYN with a disturbing history of alleged sexual misconduct." The payments can rise to $250,000 or higher, depending on the information provided to a court-appointed special master.
    "Dr. Heaps has maintained his innocence ever since he was first accused, and this proposed settlement involving civil litigation, does not change that. It involves no admission of guilt or liability by Dr. Heaps to any of the allegations against him. It is unfortunate that the Regents of the University of California have decided on this proposed settlement without ever once questioning Dr. Heaps' accusers, under oath, in a court of law," Leonard Levine, counsel for Dr. James Heaps, said in a statement to CNN.
    Heaps' criminal preliminary hearings will begin December 7, Levine said.

    Allegations of sexual battery

    Following his arrest, many women came forward and alleged that Heaps made "inappropriate and sexually suggestive comments," removed their gowns or clothing in a "sensual manner, without consent," or inappropriately touched them.
    In August, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office announced "eight additional counts of sexual battery by fraud, two additional counts of sexual exploitation of a patient as well as seven counts of sexual penetration of a person unconscious of the nature of the act by fraudulent representation" against Heaps. He now faces a total of 20 felony counts charging him with sexually assaulting seven patients, according to a news release from the L.A. County District Attorney's Office.
    Heaps pleaded not guilty to the additional charges, which date from 2011 to 2018. If convicted as charged, Heaps faces more than 67 years in prison.
    A former patient who participated in the class-action lawsuit said in a news release on Monday, "The trauma that I have been carrying for far too long is one that thousands of other women around the country also share."
    "I am relieved that we have reached a resolution that provides a way for other women to come forward in a confidential manner," the patient added.
      In a statement to CNN, UCLA Health said this is "one small step forward for the patients involved.
      "The incidents described in the lawsuit reflect alleged conduct that is contrary to our values," UCLA Health said.