In assault trial, Surgeon accused of throwing award at wife

September 13, 2011 4:28:47 PM PDT
The extravagant lifestyle of a former hand surgeon was on full display, as opening statements began in the trial of Dr. Michael Brown. The founder of the Brown Hand Center is accused of assaulting his wife Rachel last year.

During opening statements Tuesday morning, prosecutors discussed the circumstances that led up to the attack that allegedly began on August 12, 2010. That's when Rachel Brown got a voicemail where her husband was heard talking to another woman.

Prosecutors say Dr. Brown was intoxicated that day, and did not return home that night. Prosecutors say the next morning, Rachel Brown found her husband in their home, confronted him, and that's when he allegedly chased her around the house. Prosecutors allege that's when Brown twisted his wife Rachel's arm behind her back in full view of three children.

"The defendant became unchained," prosecutor Nathan Hennigan said. "He got up screaming and started chasing Rachel around the house."

Defense attorney Dick DeGuerin had a different take. He says he will show that Rachel Brown suffered from panic attacks. DeGuerin says he will show that Rachel was suffering from the panic attacks when the fight occurred.

Both sides seem to agree that some vases, a TV and glass were broken during the altercation. Perhaps most unusual is the allegation that Dr. Brown threw an award at his wife.

"Ironically enough, he grabs the Joanne Herring Humanitarian Award of 2010 that Dr. Brown won that year and throws it at her," Hennigan told the jury.

DeGuerin said the Browns' extravagant lifestyle is a reason Rachel has a motive to press charges

"Dr. Brown is still paying for the butler, three maids, two nannies, the gardener, and paying Rachel $25,000 a month for spousal support," DeGuerin said.

One of those nannies was the prosecution's main witness on Tuesday, showing the jury how she had to get between Dr. Brown and Rachel Brown, trying to keep the former surgeon away from his wife.

"I saw Dr. Brown chasing Mrs. Brown around ... everywhere in the house," Amok Hadjab testified.

Also on the stand was the family's private bodyguard, who told the jury he had to take down Dr. Brown after he was called to the house to keep him away from his wife.

Afterward, prosecutors say, Rachel Brown called 911. That audio was also played for the jury.

    911 Dispatcher: "What's your name?"
    Caller: "Rachel Brown."
    911 Dispatcher: "What are you reporting?"
    Caller: "Domestic violence."

The case has brought to light some of the more extravagant aspects of the lifestyle of the famed former surgeon. The family employed two nannies, a housekeeper, security guards, and Dr. Brown traveled with at least one body guard. Jurors were shown the inside of the Memorial family mansion, which the police officer characterized as "where wealthy people live." The nanny also testified that household staff had to sign a non-disclosure agreement in order to be hired by the Browns.

Court room observers also note it's rare to see so many lawyers on a domestic assault case. There are two lawyers for the prosecution and at least three for the defense. In addition, the court room has filled with lawyers and prosecutors interested in the case.

Several days of testimony are expected. Rachel Brown is likely to take the stand.

Case history

Dr. Brown has a previous conviction for assaulting another wife, and that means the jury will hear about that relationship as well. Brown completed community service for that previous assault, which erased it from his record.

He pleaded no contest to the assault which happened in 2002. That was an aggravated assault for beating his then-pregnant third wife, Darlina Brown, with a bed post. He was sentenced to 10 years supervised probation and fined $1,500. But if convicted on these new assault charges, Brown's past could land him in prison.

It means prosecutors have a special circumstance on their hands that makes the misdemeanor assault a felony. Brown is charged with beating his fourth wife, Rachel Brown, by twisting her arm behind her back last year.

The 54-year-old doctor is also not practicing medicine anymore, but not because he retired voluntarily. Brown was stripped of his medical license in 2006 over cocaine use.

"I don't think the judge wants us to try this case in the media," said Brown's attorney, Dick Deguerin. "We're very happy with the jury. We're happy to get this on the way to finally getting cleared up, because it's been a cloud that's been over Dr. Brown for a whole year. We're going to go forward with this trial. We're anxious about it."

The jury can expect to hear a long list of witnesses, everyone from Brown's former wives, former employees and those who worked with him on his probation, during which he attended anger management classes.

If convicted, Brown could face up to 10 years in prison.


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