Robert D. Eassa, at left, the lead attorney for UC San Diego, arrives at the Hall of Justice in San Diego, June 21, 2023. (Zoë Meyers/inewsource)

Why this matters

inewsource’s investigation into experimental brain treatments by a former UC San Diego oncologist, Dr. Kevin Murphy, is now part of a massive six-week trial between the doctor and the university.

The opening statements had the makings of a thrilling detective novel. The attorneys promised the jury a dramatic trial that would expose the work of spies, secret inventories, deceitfully written letters and the mysterious theft of a key document from a locked office.

At the same time, the four hours of arguments presented by the deep bench of attorneys in the courtroom came across as monotonous, confusing and painfully slow, and at moments the whole affair bordered on an encyclopedia read-along. The jurors were asked to make sense of dozens of names, policies, committees and hierarchies that were as byzantine as the courtroom was excessively hot, thanks to the approaching summer weather.

One thing was clear from the first two days of trial: Nobody is willing to lose.

Not the University of California, which hired a team of attorneys to defend the $47 billion public institution, its intellectual property, its high-level officials and, ultimately, its reputation.

And certainly not Dr. Kevin Murphy, who has spent years defending his actions to higher-ups at UC San Diego, then to inewsource reporters investigating the conflict and now in court.

A loss for the UC system could cost the institution millions, expose weaknesses in the guardrails it built to oversee $7.5 billion in annual research funds and implicate its leadership, including UCSD Chancellor Pradeep Khosla, who was accused of leaking inaccurate information to inewsource reporters about Murphy.

A loss for Murphy could blight his entrepreneurial record, forcing him to give up money earned from his private businesses that have bolstered his controversial brain stimulation treatment, known as PrTMS. The doctor says he has treated more than 5,000 patients using the revolutionary technology, although no clinical trials have been performed to support his grand claims about its benefits.

Learn more about Dr. Kevin Murphy’s experimental brain treatments: Read our original investigation.

The opening arguments were presented to the jurors and five alternates on June 14 and 15, laying out the roadmap for a colossal and exhausting six-week trial that is years in the making.

Nine attorneys appeared in court when the trial began. Three of them spoke to the jury, relying on a timeline and photographs to outline the complicated landscape of the case. The exhibits, numbering in the two thousands, rested in dozens of binders stacked on shelves that lined the back of the courtroom behind the witness box.

“You’re going to put together a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle,” Murphy’s lead attorney, Mark Quigley of Greene Broillet & Wheeler, told the jury at the dawn of the trial.

“I’m going to give you a picture of what this case is going to look like when all those pieces come together.”

Two realities, one trial

The legal conflict dates back to 2020, when the UC system sued Murphy, alleging the prominent oncologist committed fraud and enriched himself using a contentious $10 million donation — one of the largest ever gifts for a UCSD employee’s research.

At least $6.9 million of it is gone, yet no research was ever performed with it, according to the university.

“Where does that money go?” UC’s lead attorney, Robert Eassa of Duane Morris, rhetorically posed to the jury during his opening statement.

“He puts that money as income in his pocket, taking right from the university donated funds.”

In the eyes of the university, Murphy is a rogue employee who ran an unsanctioned medical clinic in the hopes he could make a personal fortune from his novel medical technology — a stark violation of university policy requiring him to disclose his work outside the institution.

“No doctors do this,” Eassa declared.

Dr. Kevin Murphy gives inewsource reporters a tour of the empty UCSD Center for Neuromodulation on Dec. 6, 2019. (Brad Racino/inewsource)

But Murphy denies wrongdoing. He counter-sued the university and his former boss, Dr. Arno Mundt, the founding chair of UCSD’s radiation department. Murphy, a former vice chairman of the department, maintains he was punished for exposing higher-ups who redirected a multi-million dollar gift that was always intended for his PrTMS research.

The two lawsuits were combined into one massive trial with a lot at stake.

Quigley, the first attorney to speak to the jury, portrayed Murphy as a driven and dedicated doctor who nobly stuck up for himself when administrators tried to derail his work, risking his entire career.

The doctor’s lawsuit was filed roughly three months after the university ended its employment contract with him. It was a bitter goodbye after a 15-year relationship.

“This has decimated his professional life, his career that he’s worked so hard for,” Quigley said.

Murphy’s downfall has a clear point of origin, Quigley stated: “Because he took on the powers that be at the highest levels.”

“I can connect the dots. That’s the nexus that we need to prove our case.”

Spies and thieves

The opening arguments foreshadowed upcoming witness testimony and unveiled new revelations in the yearslong dispute.

Stephanie Corneil, hired to assist Murphy with his UCSD clinical trials, was cast by the university’s legal team as a “very, very important key witness” who made “the house of cards collapse.”

The university contends that Corneil bravely told administrators about a number of concerning encounters she had with Murphy, including a time when he asked her to change serial numbers on UCSD equipment that he was sending to his private companies.

Yet Murphy’s attorneys lambasted Corneil in the courtroom, calling her a “spy” who was “hired to be the eyes and ears of the department.” They claimed she took pictures of Murphy’s whiteboards and inside his private van to share with administrators looking to get him in trouble.

The university’s legal team explained to the jury that Corneil kept two inventories of Murphy’s research equipment. There was the one the doctor told her to create, which inaccurately listed the locations of expensive brain stimulation machines. Then there was the accurate list — the one she passed along to the university when she grew concerned about the doctor’s conflicts of interest.

Murphy’s attorneys allege the reverse is true. They accused Corneil of altering the doctor’s inventory list to make it look as though something were amiss, and then slipping it into official real estate records without him knowing.

Dr. Kevin Murphy shields his face while entering the Hall of Justice in San Diego, June 21, 2023. (Zoë Meyers/inewsource)

Key to Murphy’s case, his attorneys say, is tracking down the original copy of the doctor’s inventory list to trace Corneil’s changes. But the document can’t be found.

“It’s gone,” Quigley told the jurors. “Somebody took it.”

Three months before trial, Quigley said, the UCSD employee in custody of the file was robbed. Photos from a police investigation showed the administrator’s office littered with boxes, according to Quigley, with an important document sitting atop the desk.

It was the file Quigley was looking for, he said.

The last three pages of inventory had been ripped off.

“So the document that was altered has now been stolen just in time for trial,” Quigley stated. “What does that tell you, folks?”

Only those with keycard access to the building could have entered unnoticed. Murphy’s lawyers suggested Corneil may have been responsible. However, later when Corneil testified, the university’s attorney asked if Murphy’s wife, Lisa Murphy, could have taken the file, since she’s a top UCSD executive with access to lots of facilities.

Neither side offered evidence that they found the true culprit.

A letter with untold origins

The $10 million donation central to the trial was contested from the start.

When local philanthropist Charles Kreutzkamp died of cancer, his personal trust gifted the large sum to the UC San Diego Foundation “for cancer research.” Murphy has long held the donation was meant for him.

By Murphy’s telling, Kreutzkamp was suffering from cognitive impairment that improved dramatically when he underwent the doctor’s brain stimulation treatment. In return, Kreutzkamp wanted to give him $10 million to study his promising technology.

But since the trust he left behind didn’t specify how the money should be spent, his widow was left to interpret his intentions.

Ernestina Kreutzkamp, the philanthropist’s wife of six years, signed a letter sent to UCSD attesting that her late husband wanted Murphy to receive the funds. How Ernestina Kreutzkamp wrote the letter has been an open question for years, considering she does not speak English.

UC’s attorneys now claim Ernestina Kreutzkamp did not author the letter at all. She did not even read the letter. Murphy wrote it and asked her to sign her name. She obliged.

When laying out his case for the jury, the university’s lead counsel recounted details of what Ernestina revealed in her deposition, and stated plainly that she would be brought to the witness stand to elaborate.

“You’re going to hear her testify in this courtroom,” Eassa said.

The Hall of Justice in San Diego is shown on June 21, 2023. (Zoë Meyers/inewsource)

Murphy’s legal team had its own revelations to announce on day one. The attorneys revealed that two key employees in the UC Office of the President — which oversees all the California campuses in the university system — had personal connections to the law firm the UC system hired to investigate the doctor.

The firm’s lead investigator on Murphy’s case was a personal lawyer for UC’s chief ethics officer on a prior legal issue, Murphy’s attorney told the jury. The lead investigator had also grown familiar with a top UC health attorney when the two tried cases against each other in federal court.

“These folks all know each other,” Quigley said.

The law firm did not disclose any prior connections to UC leadership when asked, according to Quigley. It received $350,000 for the probe, and concluded that Murphy had violated a litany of university policies around his businesses and patient care. inewsource wrote about the findings in 2020.

“You can imagine what the conclusion is,” Quigley went on. “Dr. Murphy, all negative, negative, negative, negative, negative, right? And then they put it into the newspaper for everybody to see.”

“It still boggles my mind.”

All or nothing

One of the monumental tasks facing the jury is deciphering the behavior of UCSD employees with personal and business ties to Murphy.

There’s his brother, Mike Murphy, who was hired to work with the doctor’s research team at the university.

The UC system’s lead attorney asserted in opening statements that Mike Murphy had spent his university-paid hours developing software for PeakLogic — Murphy’s private brain stimulation business — in violation of school policy.

There’s Diana Shapiro, a former chief business officer at PeakLogic who was then hired and paid out of Murphy’s UCSD research fund.

The university contended at trial that Shapiro was hired on Murphy’s recommendation despite having no research experience. It also claimed to possess evidence proving that Shapiro had ignored concerns about untrained technicians using Murphy’s PrTMS technology because of the financial implications.

And then there’s Mike McDermott, the chief health system counsel for UCSD at the time Murphy was trying to get his clinical trials off the ground.

In his opening argument, Murphy’s attorney said McDermott helped the doctor set up his companies “all under the banner of UCSD medical center.”

But according to the university, McDermott was working “on the side” to help the doctor as a favor, since Murphy had provided medical treatment to McDermott’s son for free. UCSD’s lawyers maintain that there is “absolutely no evidence” that Murphy had approval to establish his private businesses.

In one version of the story, McDermott is proof that Murphy went out of his way to seek approval for his outside professional activities. In another, McDermott is another example of Murphy’s attempts to obfuscate the truth.

The biomedical sciences building at the UC San Diego School of Medicine is shown on Feb. 1, 2020. (Zoë Meyers/inewsource)

McDermott will not be testifying live, but his videotaped deposition will be played at trial in the upcoming weeks.

In total, the list of witnesses that could be called to the stand is six pages deep.

Judge James Mangione, stuck with the arduous task of shepherding the trial to completion, brought moments of levity to a courtroom. He joked with the court reporter about the spelling of the Spanish word “comprende” and reassured the jurors that they would not, in fact, have to sit through testimony about all two thousand exhibits sitting in binders to their left.

Several jurors let out audible sighs and giggles of relief.

Mangione periodically asked the attorneys to clarify their statements to help the jury make sense of the mountains of information before them.

“There’s a million facts that they’re now hearing,” Mangione instructed the attorneys. “We all know the facts much better.”