The Fairfield Wives

Dr. John Parkinson, a civic and religious leader in the perfectly suburban town of Fairfield, told women they needed pelvic exams. Long exams. Several times a week. For years. And they believed him.

But the support of church leaders angered many people who knew the women complaining about Parkinson, and who felt they were being treated unfairly.

And the polarization seemed to affect everyone and everything. Some people stayed away from church activities. Friends argued. Neighbors stopped speaking. There was no middle ground in Fairfield. Parkinson was either a perverted quack, or a great healer and persecuted man of God. The choosing up of sides was accompanied by some strange sideline activity.

In October 1993, most of the women who'd made official accusations against Parkinson, many of whom were Mormons, received a letter from someone named Clyde L. Moore. The letterhead on which the missive came listed its origins as an entity called "Executive Services," with post office box and phone numbers in Salt Lake City (home, of course, to the headquarters of the Mormon Church).

The letter stated that "a thorough investigation" had established Parkinson's innocence, and that the U.S. Department of Justice was investigating the California Medical Board. Neither claim was true. The letter also implied that the church was preparing to take legal action of some kind against Parkinson's detractors:

"While we are not involved in any official capacity with this investigation, we have been retained by authorities in Salt Lake City to contact Church members who may have information regarding these solicitations and request that they make complete and truthful disclosure of their knowledge to any General Authorities who may contact them and also to their local Church leaders. Some persons may wish to secure private legal counsel regarding any personal liability they may have for statements made or actions taken in response to the alleged illegal solicitations noted above."

The Attorney General's Office investigated the matter as possible evidence of witness tampering and found that the post office box was registered to Parkinson's half-brother, Quentin Call. Parkinson had been in Salt Lake City for a church conference at the time the letter was sent, but denied any knowledge of the letter or its origin.

On another front, one of the state's witnesses, Cindy Weber, who was a Mormon, filed a sworn declaration redacting a previous declaration that accused Parkinson of misconduct. She said that Gremminger and a lawyer in the Attorney General's Office had coerced her previous, untruthful statement. The AG's Office denied her claims.

And Geraldine Rasmussen, whose complaint had kick-started the state investigation, received an anonymous photocopy of certain Mormon religious tenets, mailed from Provo, Utah. The photocopy said, in part:

"Cursed are all those that shall lift up the heel against mine anointed, saith the Lord, and cry they have sinned when they have not sinned before me, saith the Lord, but have done that which was meet in mine eyes, and which I commanded them."

A crowd gathered at the old state courthouse on McAllister Street in San Francisco on the morning of March 2, 1994. It was the first day of what would become the second-longest adminis-trative hearing in the history of the Medical Board: The Matter of Accusation and Petition to Revoke Probation Against John Parkinson, M.D.

There is no jury in an administrative hearing. Each side presents its case to a judge, who makes a decision. The members of the Medical Board of California (12 doctors and five members of the public) then may either adopt that decision, or decline it. The board has the final word.

Parkinson was flanked by his lawyers, San Francisco attorneys Wayne Skigen and Richard Levine. One of Parkinson's sons, Dan, a contractor, drove him into the city every morning, and back home again in the evening after they'd huddled with the lawyers to discuss the day's events.

Deputy AG Susan Meadows was at the prosecution table, along with another lawyer from the Attorney General's Office. Gremminger was present nearby. Behind them were about 50 people from Fairfield, all wearing green ribbons, by now the universal symbol of support for Parkinson.

Meadows began her case. The allegations covered behavior that ranged from the strange to the torturous. As the days went on, women revealed the most intimate details of their health problems, their personal lives, and what happened between doctor and patient in the private world of the examination room.

Taking the stand was particularly difficult for Marilyn Clark, a devout Mormon who runs a horse-breeding business with her husband, who holds a position in the church. Clark was keenly aware that the church leaders supported Parkinson.

On the stand, Clark told the judge how she first came to see Parkinson in 1981. Twenty-five years old at the time, she'd had four children in five years. She was feeling tired and depressed, and a woman from her church suggested that she go see Dr. Parkinson.

The doctor performed a typical pelvic exam: Clark lay on her back on the exam table, with her buttocks at the end of the table, knees in the air, and feet in stirrups on either side of the end of the table. Typically, doctors use something called a speculum -- a metal or plastic device inserted into a woman's vagina to view her cervix and take tissue samples. Clark testified that Parkinson never used a speculum.

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