UPDATE: A Dallas appeals court has issued a stay to stop depositions of UTSW leaders Drs. Daniel Podoslky and John Warner in connection to the GENECIS clinic closure, as first reported in the Dallas Morning News. Last week, a judge ruled that the leaders would have to be deposed to learn who made the decision to unbrand the GENECIS Clinic, which was jointly run by Children’s Health and UTSW, and stop offering certain therapies to new patients. GENECIS founder Dr. Ximena Lopez took her employer to court via a 202 petition that asked for pre-lawsuit depositions earlier this year. Podolsky and Warner submitted a letter that they were the ones who made the decision, but their legal team sought to block the depositions nonetheless. A three judge panel in the Fifth District of Texas at Dallas halted the depositions for now. Read more below.
A Dallas County judge ruled last week that the founder of Children’s Health’s pediatric transgender clinic will be able to get her bosses to speak on the record about the decision to unbrand the clinic and stop providing certain services to new patients.
Dr. Ximena Lopez founded GENECIS in 2014, offering gender-affirming care to pediatric patients. Late last year, Children’s and UTSW (which are connected via a master affiliation) removed all clinic branding from its website and stopped offering puberty blockers and hormone therapy to new patients with gender dysphoria. Existing patients were allowed to continue their treatment, and other psychiatric and endocrinology services are still offered to new patients with gender dysphoria.
Lopez’s legal team filed a petition to depose UT Southwestern CEO Dr. Daniel Podolsky and Dr. John Warner, the executive vice president for Health System Affairs. These depositions would help her attorneys identify the person responsible for the decision, who they would name as a defendant a potential lawsuit. Lopez testified earlier that she was told that Gov. Greg Abbott’s office had requested the closure, but UT Southwestern said it was the organization’s decision alone.
Her attorneys are trying to find the appropriate parties to sue.
The defendant’s lawyers argued in the hearing last week that the UTSW administrators and governor were acting within their duties as state employees to make changes to the clinic. Thus, the attorneys argued, those individuals cannot be deposed and don’t have to turn over correspondence because of sovereign immunity, which protects the state from being sued in its own court system.
“Anyone can put pressure on a hospital to do something,” Assistant Attorney General Charles K. Eldred said during the hearing.
Judge Melissa Bellan disagreed in part, ruling that the two parties have to agree on a time for the UT Southwestern leaders to be deposed on the record. Lopez’s legal team says this will allow them to determine who in the state government is responsible for the end of GENECIS. Bellan did not grant Lopez the right to look at any other documents, though the correspondence would be subject to discovery should a lawsuit move forward, which now seems likely.
Podolsky and Warner’s lawyer attempted to answer who is responsible for the changes to GENECIS in an affidavit filed last week. “There was no third-party entity or individual who made or directed me or Dr. Warner to make the decisions on behalf of UT Southwestern,” it reads. The statement says there is no correspondence where UTSW leaders were instructed or directed to make the decision. Warner and Podolsky are owning up to the decision, but that doesn’t rule out pressure from a government official.
Bellan’s order said that Lopez had successfully made her case to get a deposition from Podolsky and Warner, as she may have a case against her employer and bosses for ending her ability to provide what is considered the standard of care to patients with gender dysphoria.
Lopez testified that she never met with Podolsky or Warner to discuss the changes to her clinic, despite having asked multiple times. The legal system has now given her the chance, and time will tell whether the depositions shed more light on the decision-making process than what has already been stated in affidavits and the university’s statement on the clinic closure.
Lopez says it was incredibly difficult to take on her employer and bosses.
“I never wanted to be here,” she testified. “I tried my best to restore care.”