After a Columbia doctor, Robert Hadden, sexually abused his patients for decades, he finally received a court sentence on September 9 — facing charges for assaulting six patients. Yet despite the fact that the FBI and U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss announced his arrest, this is actually the first time that Hadden is receiving real consequences for his actions, having evaded jail time in the past.
In court on Thursday, Judge Richard Berman questioned why Hadden had been given such a lenient plea deal in 2016, after spending nearly two decades — between 1993 and 2002 — allegedly abusing his patients.
Over the years, Robert Hadden used his position as a gynecologist to repeatedly sexually abuse patients, telling them that his treatments were medically necessary, according to prosecutors. But he has avoided jail time up until he faced new, recent charges, thanks to a confusing plea deal four years ago. His former plea agreement from 2016 downgraded his sex offender status, meaning he isn’t listed in the state’s sex offender registry and didn't face any jail time.
But the current charges don’t come from any of the previous cases opened up against him, and are instead from a new investigation that District Attorney Cy Vance opened following public outcry sparked by his no-prison plea agreement.
Though he had previously faced charges from Vance’s office, many of his former patients felt there was no sense of justice when he received no prison sentence. Since the last case, dozens of women have come forward. This new case was simply too large to ignore, with over 100 women — including Evelyn Yang, the wife of former presidential candidate Andrew Yang — having brought their abuse to light in recent years.
In response, his lawyer, Isabelle Kirshner, detailed the terms of his former plea deal and how Hadden was let off the hook. Before retiring in 2012, Hadden had been required to have a nurse chaperone with him at all times. The nurse was one of the alleged abuse victims. However, at the time of a trial, Kirshner explained that prosecutors failed to give Hadden’s defense team the necessary statement of evidence from the nurse, which stated “that nothing inappropriate had occurred; [the nurse] had been present the entire time.”
When Kirshner discovered missing evidence, she pointed out what she saw as a purposeful attempt to hide it, prosecutors agreed not to sentence Hadden to time in jail. "At that point the government was asking for four years in custody. And after our discussion in which we pointed out what appeared to be a deliberate attempt to hide this report, the prosecution agreed to a nonincarceratory sentence and that was how that worked. And so we resolved the case,” Kirshner told the judge on Thursday.
Anthony DiPietro, who represents the more than 100 women who have accused Hadden of abuse, has spoken on the previous plea deal before, too. “To me, what happened was, Hadden was allowed to negotiate something that closely resembled an early retirement than a criminal sentence for a sexual felony,” DiPietro said.
More than half of the dozens of victims of abuse who have come forward with stories about Hadden did so after Yang publicly accused him of assault. Following Yang’s story in the media, 32 women — including Yang — joined the lawsuit against Hadden, Columbia University, and affiliates. As months stretched on, more former patients continued to join the suit. Now, after years of waiting, they may finally be getting justice.
The new charges for Hadden each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and his bond is set at $1 million.