Trial Transcripts

August 21, 1979

Anthony Abbatte

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MR. BLACKBURN:  Your Honor, may we approach the bench while this is taking place?

THE COURT:  Yes, you haven't been up here.

(Whereupon, ANTHONY ABBATTE was called as a witness, duly sworn, and testified as follows:)

B E N C H  C O N F E R E N C E

MR. BLACKBURN:  At this point I think we are getting ready to go into some more character witnesses.  We would like further clarification if we are going to call all of these character witnesses who are from out of town, as to how extensive or how far into the examination of character witnesses counsel is attempting to go.

THE COURT:  You just came up here to ask your adversary a question while I was listening?

MR. BLACKBURN:  No, sir; we would like, in view of the fact that you are not going to limit the number apparently, as I understand -- we would not like to go --

THE COURT:  (Interposing)  Well, you see, he's got witnesses like this last one that testified, both as to character and to his medical observation of this man.  I can't keep him from doing one except under 403; if he brings in 19 doctors to mark on the chart over there you would have 19 different dots.  I could probably do something there.  I think you are getting about to the end of showing all of these childhood acquaintances and bring them on down to date.  I think you can do it much faster than you are doing, and I would prefer you do rather than say, "No more character witnesses," which I could do, but I don't want to do that.

MR. SEGAL:  Let me tell Your Honor that we had planned to use only today, unless there may be one person out of sequence -- to use all of our character witnesses today -- plus certain fact witnesses.  You have heard Doctors McGann and Manson.  There will be another major fact witness after lunch.  You know, they are all around; but as I said, we plan to do it only today with the exception of a person who is to come in tonight, who will not be terribly long.  I do want to stress we are trying to cover different periods of time in the life.  I have been in many cases where the Government's argument is they didn't know at the right time.  They can't tell from before.  I think in fairness we are not belaboring the various periods of life.  This next witness talks about the last seven and a half years of life of Dr. MacDonald's life.  He has worked with him, close, in that regard.  There will only be two or three at most who deal with both the personal and professional during that period of time.  We will finish today on this, plus the facts.  I don't think it is unreasonable in a case of this magnitude to let the Defendant do that.  It is not going to burden us.

THE COURT:  One of the things that is making it this magnitude is bringing in a hundred witnesses to prove one point.  Go ahead.

(Bench conference terminated.)

D I R E C T  E X A M I N A T I O N

Q  Would you state your full name, please, and your address?
A  It is Anthony J. Abbatte, 10422 Santa Elise, in Cypress, California.
Q  Mr. Abbatte, will you tell us, please, by whom you are employed and briefly what is the nature of your responsibities and duties?
A  I am an assistant administrator of the Saint Mary Medical Center, Bower Hospital, Long Beach, California.  As such I have administrative responsibility and authority over a number of professional departments, particularly departments that are headed by physicians.
Q  Among those departments that you have this responsibility for, is the emergency medicine department involved?
A  It has been; it is not at this moment.  It was --
Q  (Interposing)  How long have you been connected with Saint Mary's Hospital?
A  Since 1964.
Q  Can you just very briefly tell us something about -- can you describe the role of Saint Mary's Hospital -- how big it is, and basically what its function in the community is?
A  Saint Mary's is a 540-bed general acute teaching hospital.  We are considered a very large hospital, offering a complex of medical services and -- including teaching services.  We are formally affiliated with the UCLA  School of Medicine for the training of residents in internal medicine and surgery.  Our clinical services range through the routine surgery, medicine.  We are particularly noted for open heart surgery and for emergency medical care.
Q  A number of people have described Saint Mary's Hospital as a so-called inner city hospital.  Very briefly, please, what does that mean?  What does that mean in terms of the kind of work that is done at Saint Mary's Hospital?
A  Okay.  In a period of a year we will treat somewhere near 150,000 people.  The location of the hospital is in the inner city of Long Beach, a community of 340,000 people.  Our immediate neighbors are minority and members of the less affluent classes.  I would say the average median income in the immediate area is below the poverty level.  Certain entry points to the hospital, such as the emergency department, experience higher than average census or loading of individuals who are in the indigent classes.  It also impacts us, by the way, in the type of the work that we do.  Being an inner city hospital, close to the port -- the center of town -- we see a great deal more trauma -- heavy emergency work -- than the average community hospital would.  A  recent study conducted by HEW in the Los Angeles County area indicated that we are one of the top three hospitals in Los Angeles in the number of trauma cases that we treat.  And here we are talking about injuries of a major nature -- gunshot wounds, stabbings, heavy automobile accident cases, industrial accident cases, child abuse, wife abuse, this type of thing.
Q  All right, let me just ask you: do all of those trauma cases have their start or their point of contact in a hospital in the emergency department?
A  That is correct, Mr. Segal.
Q  In 1971, did you have any administrative responsibilities in regard to the emergency part of the hospital?
A  I had just recently been assigned the emergency department as one of my areas of responsibility late in 1970, as a matter of fact, and at that time was fully responsible for its development; yes.
Q  When did you first learn the name of Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald?
A  Dr. Jerry Hughes, who was at that time the director of the emergency department, himself only recently appointed, came to me and discussed the possible appointment of a new physician to our medical staff, a man who he wanted to bring into his practice -- his emergency medical practice -- and this individual was Dr. MacDonald.
Q  Did Dr. Hughes have an occasion to tell you anything about Dr. MacDonald's past or background at the time he brought his name up as a possible addition to your staff?
A  Yes.


THE COURT:  Yes, I will SUSTAIN the objection as to what he told him if he told him anything

MR. SEGAL:  May I be heard on that, Your Honor?  I think that is precisely the kind of thing the Government asks of a character witness when it chooses to -- you know -- what did you learn about a person -- opinion testimony and reputation testimony.

THE COURT:  Well, you are trying to find out why he hired him as a professional emergency room doctor.

MR. SEGAL:  I will rephrase the question.

THE COURT:  All right.

MR. SEGAL:  It is my fault it was not clear.

Q  Did you learn anything about the fact that Dr. MacDonald had been charged in 1970 with the killing of his family at the time his name was brought up by Dr. Hughes as a possible staff member?
A  Yes; I did.  That was fully discussed.
Q  Well, what effect or what impact did it have on the review or the consideration of him for a position with the staff?
A  The hospital, as any major medical center, has a routine procedure for evaluating the qualifications of physicians for its medical staff.  I would say the result of Dr. Hughes' report to us was that we intensified that analysis of this -- in this particular case.
Q  And the intensification, was it because of the fact that he told you that Dr. MacDonald had been charged with a crime in 1970?
A  Yes.
Q  How would -- was that screening process -- how long did the screening process take that involved making decisions as to whether Dr. MacDonald could be brought on the staff of Saint Mary's Hospital?



THE WITNESS:  Approximately five months.

Q  And how many persons were involved in that screening process in terms of reviewing both his credentials and reviewing the issue of what impact his prior reputation would have on him?
A  Approximately 12 Iwould say -- administrative and medical staff committee.
Q  And at the end of that time was a decision made to offer Dr. MacDonald a position in the hospital, and if it was, tell us what he was asked to do?
A  Well, essentially what we were reviewing was his candidacy for membership on our medical staff.  The position was essentially being offered by Dr. Hughes as an associate in his practice of medicine, and the decision was that after review and analysis, receiving written as well as oral input from his schools, hospitals he had worked at before, places that he did his internship, that this was the type of an individual that would advance the medical program at Saint Mary's Hospital, and he was appointed to the medical staff.
Q  Between 1971 and 1974 what was Dr. MacDonald's role at Saint Mary's Hospital?
A  He was an emergency department physician, an associate partner of Dr. Hughes.
Q  What was happening, if anything, in the emergency department at that time of significance?
A  Okay, that was probably the most significant period of growth and development for that department and in many ways for Saint Mary's.  Prior to that, Saint Mary's, as many hospitals, had an approach to emergency medicine whereby physicians who had many other things to do operated the emergency department.  Dr. Hughes initially and then Dr. Hughes along with Dr. MacDonald brought to us a concept of full-time professional emergency practice -- individuals whose skills and talents and energies would be fully devoted to emergency medicine and the needs of the patients in the emergency department.
Q  Was that period in 1971 through 1974 one of considerable change in the emergency medical department of the hospital?
A  Well --

MR. BLACKBURN:  (Interposing)  We would OBJECT to this on the grounds of relevancy.

MR. SEGAL:  I'll make an Offer of Proof, Your Honor.

THE COURT:  I believe it would be quicker if you would ask the question.

MR. SEGAL:  All right, Your Honor.

Q  Was it a period of change in the emergency medical department in '71 through '74?
A  Well, as those of us who are involved in organization know, when you take a system within a larger organizational structure in a department such as the emergency department and you begin the insistence of high level standards, skills, empathy for patients, function effectiveness -- quite a number of changes have to be made.  The make-up of the physician group had to change.  We, as I mentioned before, went from the situation where individuals who had other things to do -- they were starting a practice in our community, and they were using the emergency room and their services there as a way of meeting patients or they were completing residency at one of the local universities and, though they were fully-licensed physicians, they might have had other interests.  They might have been involved in residencies in such disparate areas as dermatology.  This was slowly changed.  The physicians one by one became full-time men involved and dedicated to emergency medicine.  The nursing staff had to undergo a similar change.  Individuals with specific skills in empathy for the emergency type patient had to be developed --
Q  (Interposing)  Let me interrupt you if I may, Mr. Abbatte, in this regard.  Did you have occasion during that period to observe Dr. MacDonald with any level of frequency?
A  Oh, yes; as administrative officer responsible for the emergency department, I was in the department on a daily basis.
Q  Did you have a chance to observe what his concern was for this changing staff; that is, making decisions as to who stays and goes and who gets hired?  What kind of expression of concern did he have about human beings and their feelings?
A  Very deep concern.  One of the problems we had and, again, any organization undergoing this kind of change would experience this -- you have people who have been in the department for long periods of time and they worked to the utmost of their skills, and he was insistent that we find places for these individuals who, after counseling and training and development of programs, were obviously not fitted for the direction we were going in.
Q  Let me ask you this: had there been any problem prior to Dr. Hughes and Dr. MacDonald coming to the department about the sensitivity of the physicians and their treatment of people in the emergency room -- the emergency department?
A  Yes; there had.
Q  What was the nature of the problem, if any, and how was it dealt with; that is, as far as how it relates to Dr. MacDonald?
A  We would receive rather regular comments.  Unfortunately, through our medical staff, committees that were charged with reviewing these areas, through complaints from the community, that particularly in as intense of an emergency medical department as we had and as we were obviously developing, that there wasn't the concern.  There weren't the skill levels.
Q  Did that change in any way or was it affected in any way by the work of Dr. MacDonald?
A  Yes.
Q  How, if any, did it change?
A  Well, again, we saw skill levels raised substantially.  We saw the empathy for patients becoming a major issue, concern for the human beings that went through there in large numbers for treatment and care.  Also, we saw a welding together of our emergency department staff that we didn't have prior to this.  It became a very tight unit with a high level of comraderie.
Q  In 1974, was Dr. MacDonald's role changed at the hospital?
A  At that time he was offered and accepted the medical directorship of our emergency department.
Q  As medical director, you mean he was supervisor of the entire department?
A  Yes; he took over.  In addition to the medical responsibilities, which also made him part of the executive committee, he became the administrative director of the department also, which added a number of additional administrative burdens -- budget and this type of thing.
Q  How many people did he have to supervise -- both physicians and medical personnel and non-medical personnel?
A  Oh, right off the top of my head, I would say in the area of 60-65-70.
Q  Now, in January of 1975, Dr. MacDonald was indicted in this present case.  Did the hospital take any action as a result of the indictment or charges?
A  Well, we were made, of course, immediately aware of the indictment.  Dr. MacDonald had kept us informed of things as they moved along.  Obviously, a community hospital such as St. Mary's tends to be subject to the thoughts and feelings of its community.  We were, in this case, contacted and pressured on various sides.  The Federal Prosecutor, as an example, contacted the hospital and raised some questions as to how a Catholic institution could possibly continue to employ such an individual.
Q  As a result of the contact from somebody in the Prosecutor's staff, was it an attorney who contacted you?
A  It was a Mr. Stroud.
Q  Who was contacted at the hospital in that regard whether Dr. MacDonald should be retained there?
A  An administrator, Sister Eucidias (phonetic), a religious administrator.
Q  As a result of whatever information was shared with the hospital by Mr. Stroud, did the hospital review the question whether Dr. MacDonald should be retained or his position changed in any way?
A  Well, the Board of Directors directed its Management Committee, which is a committee of the Board, to prepare a position for the hospital with regard to Dr. MacDonald in this case.
Q  After reviewing that decision, what, if anything, was decided?
A  The hospital's position was essentially that we had known him for a period of time and we were most pleased and that we would support what we knew of this man.
Q  Now, after that review, were his responsibilities or duties in regard to the hospital or contact with the community changed in any way?
A  Well, at the same time, we had quite a number of contacts from the general members of the Long Beach community, members of our Board of Directors, our trustees, medical staff, community leaders urging strong, strong support.  Obviously, our position at this time is support.
Q  Was the medical staff of the hospital asked to review the question of whether Dr. MacDonald should be retained or his position or duties changed in any way?
A  Yes.  At that time, and again recently, it has, through its Executive Committee, which is made up of the chiefs of each of the clinical departments and the operating departments of the medical staff, has reviewed the situation, and in '75, and again this year, has taken a position.
Q  What is the most recent position taken by the medical department of the hospital?
A  It is in full support of Dr. MacDonald.  I have a letter from our Chief of Staff.
Q  Would you read that, please?


MR. SEGAL:  It is an opinion in reputation testimony.

THE COURT:  I think you have gone into that far enough.  Go into something else.

Q  Mr. Abbatte, are you a close, personal, or social friend of Dr. MacDonald's?
A  I am a friend.  I don't know if you call it a close, personal friend.
Q  Do you see him regularly on social occasions?
A  Infrequently.
Q  Do you have a family of your own, Mr. Abbatte?
A  Yes.  I am married, and I have four daughters.  My oldest daughter is 18, my second daughter is 15, the third is 13, and LeAnne is 11.  I have two children the age of Dr. MacDonald's children.
Q  Two of your children are the same age as his children would be today?
A  That is right.
Q  Did Dr. MacDonald have any contact with your children over the years that you have known him and worked at the hospital with him?
A  Well, yes, since his earliest days in Long Beach.  As a matter of fact, he taught a couple of my kids how to fish.  They all feel very strongly about him and refer to him as "Dr. Jeff."  He has treated them and cared for them.  Jeff is available 24 hours a day it seems.
Q  Based upon all of the contacts you have had with Dr. MacDonald through all this period of time, do you have an opinion as to whether he is a peaceful, non-violent person?
A  Oh, most definitely.
Q  What is your opinion, please?
A  Dr. MacDonald is a very intelligent man.  He has a fast, very accurate mind.  He studies his material very carefully.  He makes rapid decisions and is not the type of individual who would resort to violence in order to get something done.  It is not necessary.  In eight and a half years of my association with him, I have not observed a situation where he was out of control in any way.
Q  Do you have an opinion as to what Dr. MacDonald's character is as to violence towards children?
A  We see approximately 400 kids a month through our Emergency Department.
Q  Just keep your voice up.  You said 400 kids a month?
A  We see and treat 400 children a month.  Again, I have had an opportunity on numerous occasions to observe Dr. MacDonald in the treating of these children.  His rapport with them is exceptional.  He has a way of settling even the most anxious child down.  His concern is very obvious.  The time he takes, the skill, and care is just so obviously there.
Q  Is there a particular incident that stands out in your mind in terms of his care of his children?


THE COURT:  Tell us about that particular incident.

THE WITNESS:  Approximately a year -- maybe a year and a half ago -- we had quite a tragedy in Long Beach.  The ceiling of the YWCA collapsed on the swimming pool or in the swimming pool area and several people were drowned, one of whom was a young pregnant mother.  The father was in shock, distraught, and completely unable to carry out his responsibilities.  Dr. MacDonald took the woman's daughter, six -- maybe seven years old -- aside into one of our counseling rooms and I attended with him.  He took the girl by the hand and spent 20 minutes or so explaining that mother wasn't coming home and that she wasn't still swimming and that she wasn't under the roof any longer.  I quite honestly could not stay the whole time with that young lady.  I thought it was very significant.  I was really moved.

Q  Finally, Mr. Abbatte, based upon your contacts for a period of eight and a half years, do you have an opinion as to Dr. MacDonald's truthfulness?
A  He is a very truthful individual -- eight and a half years -- as Medical Director of probably our most pressure-impacted department, a department that has experienced significant growth and development.  It would be impossible for me not to know that he is a very honest man.

MR. SEGAL:  Thank you.  Mr. Abbatte, the Government may have some questions.  You may cross-examine.

MR. BLACKBURN:  Your Honor, we don't have any questions.

THE COURT:  Call your next witness.

MR. SEGAL:  Thank you very much.  You may step down.

(Witness excused.)