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Doctors Behaving Badly: Chicago doc accused in baby’s death gets by with a little help from the Klan

Doctors Behaving Badly: Chicago doc accused in baby’s death gets by with a little help from the Klan

Picture of William Heisel

Medical malpractice cases can dredge up some frightening examples of human behavior.

Few examples could be uglier than the Ku Klux Klan.

Dr. Joseph Dickstein, a family doctor in Chicago, had three patients complain that they suffered complications following surgical procedures he performed. The allegations were serious enough that Dickstein lost his hospital privileges.

Perhaps he was feeling desperate then when he was sued by Karla Morgan.

Dickstein had delivered Morgan's daughter stillborn. When Morgan sued, she requested a change of venue, saying that, as a white woman married to a black man in 98% white Bond County, she was unlikely to receive a fair trial. As evidence she offered the fact that the Ku Klux Klan had been planning a rally there that received substantial news coverage and that, according to court documents:

The Morgans' marriage, their daughter's death, and their lawsuit against the area's only hospital are common topics of discussion among the populace.  People can be heard "talking distinctively about the Morgans and how it is a blessing that their baby died, because it was going to be half and half."    

The trial court agreed with her and allowed her to move the trial to a nearby county.

But Dickstein and his attorneys brought in a ringer: the so-called Grand Titan of the Ku Klux Klan, Basil Sitzes. Court documents show:

In Sitzes' affidavit, he stated that after meeting with Bond County officials prior to the rally which had been scheduled for Bond County, he "cancelled the rally because [he] did not find any racial problems justifying the rally."

The gambit worked. The Appellate Court of Illinois for the Fifth District ruled against Morgan. In a dissenting opinion, Justice Clyde L. Kuehn said:

When the Grand Titan of the Ku Klux Klan observes a racial pearl, it is quite reasonable to imply the presence of racial poison.  The Grand Titan's stamp of approval for an area's racial views depicts an area where a white woman married to a black man may not receive a fair trial.

Dickstein didn't escape entirely, though. One year after that opinion, the Illinois Department of Professional Regulation fined him $10,000 and placed him on indefinite probation, barring him from practicing obstetrics or performing any surgical procedures. He was able to go back to practicing in 2006 but was temporarily in trouble again until 2009.

The details of both of the state's actions against Dickstein are shrouded in mystery – under a hood? As Antidote has noted in a series of posts, the Illinois License Lookup system provides only the faintest of details about its physician investigations.

As of today, Dickstein is allowed to practice without restrictions. Antidote has to wonder if Dickstein was polite enough to send the Grand Titan a thank you card.

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