Investigations Need To Start At The Top

Investigations Need To Start At The Top


Leonard Zwelling

I remember what happened, but I am not sure of when. I think it must have been around 2002. I had been overseeing the infrastructure for clinical research at MD Anderson since March of 1995. I had assembled a big team of extremely competent people to work with me and I thought we were doing a good job—but how objective could I have been?

Many of the clinical research faculty disagreed with my assessment. The faculty, particularly those in the Division of Cancer Medicine, felt I had gotten too big for my britches and was too autocratic. Their complaints made it up to the highest reaches of MD Anderson and President John Mendelsohn assembled a special Blue Ribbon committee to audit the processes my office had put in place to assure compliance with the Code of Federal Regulations.

To sum up the findings as I remember them, it was felt that too much power had been concentrated in my office and that a separate vice president for clinical research was needed who was more service oriented than I was perceived to have been. Eventually, one was identified and not being afflicted with mural dyslexia, I could see the handwriting on the wall. Dr. Kripke had other things for me to do and I had had a good run by June of 2004. I relinquished oversight of the clinical research apparatus to the new Vice President for Clinical Research.

The point here is that I was at the top of the pyramid in this area and the top needed some additional sunlight. Dr. Mendelsohn made sure it got that exposure and the faculty got its wish. Essentially, I was gone.

Now to be honest, with the help of a great therapist, some good friends, a terrific wife, and some therapeutic horses in Arizona (read my new book, Conflict of Interest—out soon), I was made to realize that I was doing what I really did not like to do in my oversight of clinical research. It was time for me to leave the party, but that was made clear by an outside investigation of my office by a Blue Ribbon panel of my peers reporting to the president.

Flash forward to May 2, 2022. Politico releases the draft of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs opinion indicating, way before the official June announcement, that Roe v. Wade was dead. Now, in yet another piece of exceptional reporting (the author, Jodi Kantor was one of the reporters who revealed Harvey Weinstein’s misdeeds), Ms. Kantor reports in The New York Times on January 22, that the Supreme Court’s own investigation of the leak has come to naught. In essence the internal investigation by the Court’s Marshall Gail A. Curley could not identify the source of the leak. That’s not the outrage.

The outrage is that in a judicial body that is ideologically split severely and in an investigation in which 82 people in addition to the nine justices had access to the opinion, the judges were not interrogated. And remember, one of those justices has a wife who is a very politically active right-winger who thought the assault on the Capitol was swell.

“Conversations with the justices had been a two-way “iterative process” in which they (the justices) asked as well as answered questions.” They were not asked to sign affidavits. In other words, they could have lied through their teeth and no one would be the wiser.

In short, the people with the greatest interest in ending the national legal right to abortion, Gorsuch, Alito, Thomas, Kavanaugh, and Barrett, did not really have to sign a piece of paper saying they told the truth. The question from the beginning in May, has been was this leaked to prevent anyone from reversing his or her vote? Did this leak tie the bargaining hands of Chief Justice Roberts who is reported to have wanted to uphold the constitutionality of the Mississippi law without overturning Roe? Will we ever know who leaked the document? Well, we finally did find out who Deep Throat was.

The Supreme Court, already held in low esteem by over half of the American people, has done itself no favor in not allowing a thorough outside investigation to go on and to treat the nine justices like everyone else—as potential suspects. Don’t these guys watch Law and Order?

I always worry when any established organization seeks to investigate itself and then expects the public to accept the results of a tainted investigation. In this case, the primary suspects were not really interrogated. What a terrible idea!

I have also come to learn that in cases at MD Anderson where senior faculty have been cited as being unprofessional, these investigations were not conducted in a dispassionate or fair fashion and the role of the higher ups in the putative unprofessional behavior declaration are not examined.

I understand that in any organization things can get out of hand and people must be held accountable. Goodness knows, I was. Why the Supreme Court and the leadership of MD Anderson cannot see the need for independent investigations of sensitive issues is beyond me. Maybe, neither organization is ready to “handle the truth.”

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