Doctors Behaving Badly: New Hampshire medical board keeps doc's manslaughter history hush-hush
Dr. James Kartell does not like to be told no.
Kartell, a plastic surgeon who practiced in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, shot and killed his estranged wife's boyfriend while his wife was lying in a hospital bed recovering from pneumonia in 1999.
He did not shoot the boyfriend, Janos Vajda, right away. First, he told him to leave Holy Family Hospital, in Methuen, Massachusetts. When that didn't work, he shoved him toward the door. When that did not work, he shot him in the abdomen, "lacerating vital organs including the aorta," according to the New Hampshire State Board of Medicine. When Vajda remained in the hospital room, Kartell shot him in the back of the head.
Kartell was indicted for first degree murder. Even though he had brought a gun to a hospital room with a pocket full of extra bullets, he pleaded self-defense. Taking his version of events into account, a jury convicted Kartell in 2000 of the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.
Kartell did not like that guilty verdict, so he appealed. The court did not like what Kartell had to say, and the verdict against him was affirmed. He then moved for a new trial and was denied.
While in prison, Kartell applied for parole multiple times. Every time, his parole application was rejected, forcing him to serve the full eight years of his sentence.
Not surprisingly, the medical boards in New Hampshire, Massachussetts, Illinois and New York took his license away. He also lost his privileges to practice at Saints Medical Center in Lowell, Massachusetts, and at St. Joseph Hospital and Southern New Hampshire Medical Center in Nashua, New Hampshire. Hospitals expect their medical staff members to understand that firing guns in a place where people already are ill could be counterproductive.
Upon release from prison, Kartell took his grievances to the New Hampshire medical board in 2009, asking to have his license reinstated. The board denied his request.
Kartell did not like that answer and demanded a hearing. The board gave him a hearing, and, in May 2010, the board voted to deny him a license once again.
Here is what the board had to say:
The act of taking a human life by shooting the individual in the back of the head is inconsistent with the character the Board expects of its licensed physicians.
Even a statement this simple could be made available on the New Hampshire medical board's website with minimal effort. Should Kartell start practicing without a license or apply for a license in another state, this information would be helpful to both patients and hospitals.
The New Hampshire medical board, though, provides just 92 words about Kartell on its site, none of which have anything to do with him shooting someone in the back of the head in a hospital.
To learn about that, the public has to take a gamble that there will be something in Kartell's disciplinary history worth paying $0.25 per page. This may sound like a deal compared to what Mississippi charges, but for a big file, the fees can add up.
To the New Hampshire medical board's credit, the file is action packed. No bureaucratic boilerplate here. Just the facts stated clearly and completely. Still, patients – not to mention medical boards in other states – should not have to pay to find out that their doctor has a violent felony record.
Final question: How many words would it require for the New Hampshire medical board to tell the public the basics about Kartell's case? Just 34 words. The New York State Board for Professional Medical Conduct tells patients nearly everything they need to know in less than half of the space New Hampshire uses to say nothing:
The physician did not contest the charge of having been convicted in Superior Court, Essex County, Massachusetts of voluntary manslaughter.The physician's New York State medical license was previously summarily suspended on June 1, 1999.
Jenn Harris contributed to this report.
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The Doctors Behaving Badly tour thus far: