A jury granted former UC San Diego oncologist Dr. Kevin Murphy more than $39 million in damages following a two-month trial between the doctor and the university.
The UC system in 2020 sued Murphy, who once served as a department vice chair, alleging he committed fraud and enriched himself using a $10 million donation to the university meant for research. At least $6.9 million of that donation was gone but no research was ever performed with it, UCSD said.
Murphy countersued, claiming UCSD led a campaign against him when he spoke up about the university funds being directed away from their intended purpose.
Those two lawsuits were combined into a massive trial that ended this week. The jury deliberated for fewer than eight hours before returning a verdict Wednesday afternoon.
Murphy and his team of attorneys argued at trial that the doctor had lost income, career opportunities, friends, sleep and more as a result of the university’s retaliation. UCSD chose not to renew his employment contract in 2020, ending his 15-year career with the institution.
The bulk of the damages awarded to Murphy came from “non-economic loss,” which can include emotional distress, shame and humiliation resulting from another’s actions.
The final verdict included the following damages in favor of Murphy:
- Past economic loss: $1,459,394
- Future economic loss: $8,169,378
- Past non-economic loss: $20 million
- Future non-economic loss: $10 million
In addition to ruling in favor of Murphy, the jury also found that the doctor had breached his duty of loyalty to UCSD and acted against its interests. The jury awarded about $67,000 in favor of the UC system, which covered money Murphy had earned outside the university that he had failed to turn over as required.
The UC system asked for more than $8 million in damages, including civil penalties for violations of the False Claims Act and years of Murphy’s salary paid to him while he was disloyal to the public institution.
UCSD had also sued for damages against Murphy’s private medical clinic and medical software company, but the jury found that the companies did not owe any damages.
Although the jury only needed to reach a nine-person majority on each line item in the case, almost all of the votes were unanimous.
Murphy sat in tears as the verdict was read, nodding when his attorney turned to face him.
Outside the courthouse, Murphy said the jury’s ruling was a win for all whistleblowers who fear retaliation.
“When you fight the powers that be at a $45 billion organization, they’ll crush you,” he said. “And they tried that. I’m just glad the jury saw through all that.”
Murphy said he would use the funds to run the trials he had always intended to conduct using the $10 million donation to UCSD.
“I want the jury and others to know these funds are gonna go toward the things that the donor wanted,” Murphy said. “The shame is that all that could have been used by now.”
Now that the trial is complete, Murphy said he would “try and get some sleep for the first time in years.”
The case may not be over yet. The UC system has the opportunity to appeal the verdict if it so chooses. The university’s lead attorney, Robert Eassa of Duane Morris, did not comment on the ruling.
Murphy’s lead attorney, Mark Quigley of Greene Broillet & Wheeler, said he anticipates more legal proceedings to come.
“I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I imagine (the UC) will exercise all the rights they have in the legal system before this is resolved,” he said.
The ruling is the latest of several whistleblower cases Quigley has won against the University of California.
“I think it sends a very clear message that you can’t retaliate against your employees like this,” he said.
The dispute between Murphy and UCSD began in the fall of 2015, when philanthropist Charles Kreutzkamp died of cancer and left $10 million to the university “for cancer research.”
Murphy always contended the money was meant for him to research his experimental brain stimulation treatment, known as PrTMS.
The case featured an inewsource investigation from 2020 into PrTMS, a treatment that Murphy claims can help patients with a wide variety of mental and cognitive disorders, even though it has not gone through research trials. One patient, a Navy SEAL, experienced a psychotic break after undergoing more than 200 of the doctor’s treatments, inewsource found.
Later that year, UCSD officials provided reporters with a summary of an investigation commissioned by the university into the doctor’s actions over the preceding years. The findings stated that Murphy had violated a litany of policies and misused funds.
In his lawsuit, Murphy alleged the UC system intentionally leaked damaging and inaccurate information to inewsource.
The case took years to come to trial.
Jury selection in the case began in June. Once chosen, the jury and five alternates included a postal worker, Border Patrol officer, lawyer, sheriff’s deputy and a teacher.
Attorneys on both sides of the aisle pointed out throughout the proceedings how especially attentive the jurors were — taking notes and listening carefully to each of the two dozen witnesses who took the stand.
Like everything else having to do with the case, the verdict forms the jury had to complete were long and complicated. During the announcement of the verdict, the attorneys realized the jurors had accidentally left sections of the form blank, and Judge James A. Mangione required the jury to resume deliberations past the end of the court’s 4:30 p.m. closing time.
Once the ruling was read, the judge thanked the jury for its service.
“We all know it’s a great personal sacrifice, particularly in this case because we went overtime, particularly in this case because the jury selection was so arduous,” Mangione said. “Now you understand why.”
Several jurors expressed gratitude for playing a role in the trial. One alternate juror gave the judge a thank you card and told the attorneys that being a part of the case “renewed my faith in humanity.”
Attorneys and jurors were shuffled out of the courthouse late Wednesday afternoon as security personnel tried to lock up the building.
“There’s no winner,” one juror said outside the Hall of Justice.
“I hope we did the right thing, because it wasn’t easy.”
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News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.