The Robinson Affair: a Spokane Doctor's Ordeal (1929)

  • By Carl P. Schlicke, M.D.<BR>edited by David W. Wilma
  • Posted 7/11/2005
  • Essay 7354

Dr. Carl Schlicke, M.D., wrote this article about Spokane surgeon Dr. William Witten Robinson, M.D. (1897-1957) whose career and practice were almost destroyed in 1929 when he testified against another physician in a malpractice suit. He sued his colleagues, hospitals, and the medical society for conspiracy and slander in a trial that drew nationwide attention. This article appeared in The Pacific Northwesterner, Vol. 27, No. 2 (Spring 1983), pp. 81-93, and is here edited by David Wilma and reprinted by permission. Dr. Schlicke was chief of Surgical Services at the Rockwood Clinic, chairman of the surgical committee at Sacred Heart Hospital, governor of the American College of Surgeons, and president of the Washington State Medical Association.

Dr. William Witten Robinson, M.D.

In this day and age when every phase of hospital based professional activity is under the close and ongoing scrutiny of some committee or other it is hard to realize the degree of autonomy enjoyed by physicians in the early decades of the twentieth century. Once graduated from medical school and often having completed only a one-year internship, the young doctor was licensed to practice medicine and surgery. Short of committing a felony, he was accountable virtually to no one except himself. It was unthinkable for a doctor to look at the chart of another doctor's patient or to look in on such a patient except within the strictly circumscribed bounds of the infrequently requested formal consultation.

Doctors regarded their patients as their own private property and woe be it to the physician who "stole" another doctor's patient. Above all one never criticized what another physician had done, no matter how aberrant the nature of that care. The strictest taboo of all was that in the unlikely occurrence of litigation, under no circumstances would one professional testify against another. This was in part due to what today might be regarded as a misguided sense of professional ethics and in part due to the ever nagging fear of "There but for the grace of God, go I." But the strength of the taboo and the commitment to it cannot be overemphasized. The present account deals with the affairs of a physician who thought differently, or who at least thought that there might be room for an exception.

William Witten Robinson was born in Glenwood Springs, Colorado in 1897. His father, Lesco A. Robinson was an old fashioned horse-and-buggy country doctor who in 1907 moved his family and his practice to Spokane. Bill was the second of 11 children in this highly intelligent and talented family. Their mother, Pamelia Witten Robinson, was an excellent pianist and saw to it that the children had music lessons. As they grew older, several of the children achieved a high degree of musical competence. A family orchestra was formed which later made numerous public appearances.

It was a happy, loving family, medically oriented in its work and even in the children's play, only marred by occasional manifestations of a streak of emotional instability. It was the father's dream to establish a Robinson Clinic, but although three of his sons became physicians and two of his daughters nurses, the clinic was never realized.

Even as a youngster Bill showed an intense interest in everything medical and scientific. When the children indulged in medical play, Bill was always the surgeon. He was an excellent musician, his principal instrument being the clarinet, but he also played the saxophone, piano, and organ. While at North Central High School he composed a number of musical pieces and an operetta. He was a good scholar and played football, baseball and golf. He also found time to date an attractive girl from Lewis and Clark High School named Betty Anderson. After his graduation from high school Bill attended Whitworth College for one semester and then transferred to Washington State College.

When the United States became involved in World War I, Bill dropped out of college to enlist in the Army. He was assigned to Camp Hospital Unit "C" of the Army Medical Reserve Corps which had been recruited almost exclusively in Spokane. The commanding officer was Colonel Samuel E. Lambert and among the other officers were such well known Spokane physicians as Fred Sproul, Ralph Hendricks, W. J. Pennock, Fred Whittaker, R. N. Hamblen, Arthur Betts, and Edward Barnett.

The laboratory to which Private Robinson was assigned was headed by Lt. Guy Hollister. The unit was sent to France and set up a hospital in an abandoned chateau. While there, Bill contracted diphtheria complicated by myocarditis and neuritis. He was evacuated to the United States and discharged from the service with a 50 percent total disability rating.

Upon his return to Spokane Bill married his high school sweetheart, Betty Anderson, who accompanied him to Chicago when he entered Rush Medical College. Bill graduated high in his class, interned at Cook County Hospital and then served a two year surgical residency at Chicago's Presbyterian Hospital. After completing his training he returned to Spokane where he opened an office in the Empire State Building in 1926. He rapidly acquired a reputation as a skilled surgeon and developed a large practice. Initially, most of his patients requiring hospitalization were admitted to Deaconess Hospital and he is said to have carried out 400 operations during his first 18 months on the staff. He also enjoyed privileges at St. Luke's and Sacred Heart Hospitals.

Bill was smart, aggressive, and hard working. He had a resourceful and inquisitive mind. He invented a number of surgical instruments and suggested innovations in his radiologic equipment. He had a happy marriage which yielded two children, was an expert golfer, bridge player, and musician. It truly seemed as though he had everything going his way, but there can be no doubt that his early success aroused a certain amount of envy and jealousy among his fellow physicians.

The Prather Case

Then in the fall of 1927, an event occurred which had a profound effect on the lives of a number of people and the relationships within the local medical community. A pretty 17-year-old high school student named Elsie Prather was badly injured in a one-car automobile accident. She was taken to the emergency room then maintained in the City Hall where she was found to have multiple grimy, dirt-filled wounds of her right leg and fractures of her right femur and fibula. The steward on duty cleansed and sutured her wounds and put in a call for Dr. George A. Downs, who examined her, applied a splint and had her moved to Sacred Heart Hospital. The following morning Dr. Downs, a general practitioner, assisted by Dr. R. N. Hamblen, operated on Elsie, carrying out an open reduction of her fractured femur, stabiIizing the fragments with metal bands and applied a plaster cast.

Post operatively Elsie suffered an inordinate amount of pain and ran a febrile, septic course. The operative wound had to be reopened to evacuate a large quantity of pus which bad accumulated. Numerous other abscesses developed requiring incision and drainage. Ultimately the bands were removed from her femur and the fragments promptly came apart. Her condition deteriorated steadily although somewhere along the line she was moved to her home. Ulcers, contractures, and gangrene developed in the limb and one end of the broken femur came out through the skin. Finally after five terrible months, Dr. Downs suggested amputation. The Prather family was by this time thoroughly dissatisfied with Dr. Downs and asked young Dr. Robinson, who was a good friend of Elsie's uncle, to see her and take over her care.

Dr. Robinson demurred, knowing well that the position in which this would place him with his already disaffected colleagues, but ultimately, because of the seriousness of the problem and his long friendship, he agreed to do what he could to help the unfortunate girl. He had her admitted to Deaconess Hospital where he asked Dr. Langworthy, then the community's leading orthopedist, to see her in consultation. Dr. Langworthy had on a previous occasion seen her for Dr. Downs, but at this time because of the impaired circulation and profound sepsis present, agreed that nothing short of amputation would be of value. However, he did not wish to become involved personally. It was no longer a matter of attempting to save a limb, but of saving Elsie's life. On May 26, 1928, Dr. Robinson proceeded with a below-the-knee amputation. Following this, Elsie made a slow but steady and good recovery.

Dr. Downs, of course, was outraged by this, as he regarded it, flagrant breach of medical ethics and protested volubly to his colleagues. The last straw for the Prathers was when Dr. Downs threatened suit to collect for his services to Elsie, whereupon they filed suit against him for negligence and improper treatment.

On May 13, 1929, the case came to trial in Superior Court in Spokane, Judge W. A. Huneke presiding. Attorney V. T. Tustin represented the plaintiff and E. J. Cannon the defendant. The damages sought were $33,400, making this the largest malpractice suit ever tried in Spokane. In spite of this and the intense concern of the medical community, there was little public interest initially. The day Dr. Robinson was to testify there were more than 25 doctors in the courtroom. They knew where his sympathies, sense of propriety, and of duty to his patient lay. Dr. Robinson later charged that be had already received threats that if he testified against another physician, he would be driven out of the practice of his profession in Spokane. Even his father had been told that if his son testified in the Downs case, every hospital in town would be closed to him.

When he was called to the witness stand Dr. Robinson realized he was placing his career in jeopardy, but he was not intimidated, for he sincerely believed that the doddering defendant was incompetent, undependable, and totally unqualified to manage such a serious medical problem and had in fact ruined Elsie Prather. He proceeded to tell the jury that her injury had been grossly mismanaged, that the treatment of choice would have been manipulation and traction. Dr. Langworthy testifled that Dr. Downs's method of treatment had been correct, that nothing else would have worked. Doctors John Shea, A. R. T. Cunningham, and R. J. Kearns also supported Dr. Downs's treatment. The plaintiff's attorney, Mr. Tustin insisted that in view of all the contamination which had occurred at the time of the accident, that an open operation which led to infection and its disastrous consequences should have never been performed.

Dr. Robinson took the stand again and pointed out that since gangrene had developed, either the cast had been too tight, in which event it should have been split, or the femoral artery blocked, in which event it should have been explored. At one point, the arguments between Tustin and Cannon became so heated that both attorneys were obliged to apologize to the court. Elsie sat by quietly in the courtroom with her crutches by her side while all this was going on.

The case went to the jury on the afternoon of May 22. The next day the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff and awarded her $12,500. Cannon's law partner, Frank McKevitt, asked the court for a judgment in Downs's favor and that the jury's verdict be set aside. If this motion was denied a new trial would be sought. The press gave Dr. Robinson chief credit for the way the case had turned out and expressed admiration for the courage displayed by a young man only three years out of training, to stand up against the combined testimony of the older men.


The medical fraternity of Spokane was in an uproar. Things of an unpleasant nature began to happen to Dr. Robinson. He was shunned by other doctors in the city. There were rumors that he was guilty of performing incompetent, unnecessary, and improper operations. Adverse publicity began to hurt his practice. A crushing blow occurred when Deaconess Hospital, where he had been doing most of his work, closed its doors to him. Later St. Luke's Hospital and then Sacred Heart told him he was not wanted. The insurance carrier then cancelled his malpractice Insurance. It looked as though the threats he had received were being effectively carried out. It was time for Dr. Robinson to take pause and consider his options. One was to leave town with his tail between his legs, a beaten young man. The other was to start a hospital of his own, an idea which he had in the back of his bead for some time. Being a smart, cocky, resourceful individual he chose the latter course.

Property was acquired just east of Sacred Heat Hospital and with the help of his father-in-law, Fred Anderson, financing was arranged to pay for it and for the erection of a clinic and hospital. Noel Thompson who had designed the Deaconess Hospital was the architect and John Anderson the contractor. Shortly thereafter notices appeared in the newspapers that the Rockwood Clinic Hospital was under construction. In the meantime Dr. Robert Stewart, a young man who had interned at Deaconess Hospital had been taken on as an associate.


In the fall of this same year a new trial was allowed in the Downs-Prather case. There were said to have been errors in the record and Judge Huneke ruled that Attorney Tustin had made insinuations while examining witnesses, which the evidence did not justify. The retrial opened in Superior Court November 4, 1929, with Judge E. G. Jeffers of Ephrata presiding. The same attorneys as in the previous trial were pitted against each other, but there was still little public interest. The defense shifted its tactics somewhat this time maintaining that Miss Prather's fractured femur resulted in a major arterial injury which required an open operation for decompression and control of the bleeding. In fact the arterial injury was now held responsible for most of the subsequent troubles. The defense moreover insisted that the operation per se had nothing to do with the infection which followed since strict aseptic technic had been carried out and only sterile instruments and never a hand had entered the wound!

Again Dr. Robinson, who was described by the press as a "star witness" Testified that Dr. Downs had used improper methods and that external methods of treatment would have been simpler and less prone to infection. Dr. Downs maintained that his consultants, Drs. Langworthy and Hamblen advised him to continue what he was doing in the post-operative period. Dr. Dillehunt, Dean of the University of Oregon Medical School testified that an open operation would be justified if conditions were as Dr. Downs now stated they were. Drs. Hamblen, Ward, Joseph Aspray, and O'Shea supported Dr. Downs's course of action and Dr. Langworthy's testimony was read into the record. Dr. Robinson agreed that an open operation would be indicated if the leg was as described by the defendant but as Mr. Tustin pointed out, there was nothing in the hospital record to indicated the presence of a ruptured artery which could obstruct the circulation. In fact he maintained that the present emphasis on a cut artery was an afterthought on the part of the defense to justify the operation. In a dramatic moment, demure, slender Elsie Prather took the stand and bared her amputation stump for the jury.

On November 14 the case went to the jury, Judge Jeffers refusing a defense plea for a directed verdict in favor of Dr. Downs. The jury required only half an hour to reach a verdict in favor of the plaintiff and it increased the damages awarded her to $19,000 and costs. The defense requested yet another trial on the basis that nothing had been proved by the plaintiff and because the jury had only deliberated for such a short time. This request was denied, so there was talk of an appeal to the Supreme Court of the State of Washington, but nothing came of it. Elsie ultimately received $7,400. Dr. Downs later alleged that he had but $12 to his name, that he was ill, $3,000 in debt and in no position to pay anyone anything, and of course in those days no one carried much malpractice insurance. After all Elsie Prather had been through it is good to be able to report that she is still [1983] living and has a happy and productive life.

Professional Isolation

The reason why Dr. Langworthy's testimony had to be read into the record was that he had been murdered by a disgruntled patient just three weeks before the second trial. After his death, a memorial was started to this loved and respected orthopedist in the form of a library and educational fund for the children in the Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children of which he had served as head. Dr. Robinson's offer of a contribution to the memorial fund was declined. A notice in the November Spokane County Medical Bulletin contained the following paragraph:

"Nearly all the members of the Spokane County Medical Society have sent in checks and we hope to be able to claim every member with one exception a contributor. The officers of the Society and the Library Committee have decided that a contribution from that member who has proved unworthy of associating with ethical practitioners will not be accepted."

In the meantime, because of questions which had arisen regarding Dr. Robinson's judgement and surgical procedures, an investigation had been quietly launched. It later developed that the most specific allegations had come from a young physician who had been a boyhood friend of Dr. Robinson's and who had assisted him in a number of operations. He accused Dr. Robinson of frequently performing sterilizations operations on young women and hinted at abortions. Dr. George Anderson was authorized by the Superintendent of Deaconess Hospital, Rev. Dr. Robert Warner, to take a number of Dr. Robinson's hospital records and to obtain the opinion of an official of the American College of Surgeons, Dr. George Swift, who happened to be in Portland at the time. The word was brought back that Deaconess would be removed from the list of accredited hospitals unless Dr. Robinson was barred. Without any sort of a hearing Dr. Robinson was informed that Deaconess Hospital would not admit any more of his patients.

In the hope of clearing his reputation, Dr. Robinson then extracted the same charts from the Deaconess Hospital record room and took them to Chicago where he showed them to a number of his former teachers. He was told that no fault could be found with his cases from a medical or legal standpoint. He also visited the headquarters of the American College of Surgeons where the director of the Hospital Accreditation Program, Dr. Malcolm MaeEachern, denied that any threat had been made regarding the Deaconess Hospital or anything said by any College official about unnecessary or improper surgery. Dr. Robinson returned to Spokane feeling greatly encouraged, but when he confronted the Rev. Dr. Warner with this evidence he was told that if he were kept on the staff a number of other doctors had threatened to boycott the hospital.

The final and most devastating blow fell at a closed meeting of the Spokane County Medical Society on the night of January 16, 1930, in the Old National Bank Building auditorium. Dr. Robinson was accused of purloining seven records from the Deaconess Hospital Record Room and of performing unnecessary and improper operations. Although during the proceedings the second charge was dropped, the membership voted to expel him from the Society. He was asked to leave the room immediately. As he departed, accompanied by his new associate, Dr. Stewart, Dr. Robinson stopped at the door and said, "I thank the 13 [of 96] who voted for me." Four days later Dr. Stewart left him to pursue further studies and to start practice in Portland.

The following day Dr. Robinson "dropped a legal bomb into the midst of the medical community." He filed suit in Superior Court against 10 of Spokane's most prominent doctors, charging them with conspiring to injure him and his reputation and making it necessary for him to construct his own private hospital and operate it at a loss since he was barred from the city's other hospitals. He asked for $100,000 damages. The doctors named were J. H. O'Shea, E. M. Welty, Carrol Smith, S P. Seaberg, R. N. Hamblen, T. E. Hoxey E. 13. Nelson, C. H. Anderson, I. D. Berger: and D. H. Lewis. The resulting trial was one of the most amazing in the history of Spokane jurisprudence up to this time. It produced 11 books of transcripts and 6.6 million words of testimony. In contrast to the previous trials, this one was front-page news throughout, with frequent glaring headlines. Coverage was nationwide as well as local and often wildly sensational.

Presently nine more physicians who were County Medical Society or hospital staff officers were named in the complaint along with the Superintendent of Deaconess Hospital. Included were C. D. Ward, R. M. Schulte, H. E. Rhodehamel, E. J. Lawrence, F. J. Whittaker, C. A. Veasy, Jr., P. J. Gallagher, Oscar Stenberg, W. J. Pennock, and the Rev. Dr. Warner. Representing Dr. Robinson were the attorneys with whom he had worked during the Downs-Prather trials, V. T. Tustin, Clyde Belknap and Winfred Chandler. Representing the defense was the law firm of Cannon, McKevitt, Hamblen and Gilbert.

Slander Trial

Things moved slowly at first. There were many delays due to legal arguments and demurrers. On March 19, 1930, the trial against the 20 defendants opened in the Superior Court of Judge R. M. Webster. By the following week Judge Webster had approved of most of Dr. Robinson's complaints, but because of their multiplicity, he ruled that separate actions would have to be instituted. In mid-April an amended complaint was entered. The claim for damages was reduced to $35,000 for losses incurred from the necessity of building a private hospital and $30,000 for slander. A week later a new suit was filed but again there were more postponements due to more demurrers. Then in May, Judge Webster became ill and the trial was deferred until September. Attempts by the defense to have the case thrown out of court were denied, a new complaint was filed in August and in September the attorneys were again clashing in court. The defense asserted that the reason Dr. Robinson had been kicked out of Deaconess Hospital was that he had violated a pledge he had signed not to perform abortions and had in addition performed numerous sterilizations. It was claimed that he had long planned to build his own hospital so as to escape the scrutiny of his peers.

By December, a jury of seven women and five men had been chosen and the trial began with Judge Dolph Barnett of Yakima presiding. The first few days Dr. Robinson, described by the press as a "dapper young surgeon" spent considerable time on the witness stand before a crowded courtroom. He stated that he had testified in the Elsie Prather case without malice toward Dr. Downs and solely because be felt it was his moral obligation. He charged that immediately after he testified, the defendants, who for years had agreed among themselves never to testify against another physician, entered into a conspiracy to injure him by destroying his practice and attempting to run him out of town. He further charged that they bad served notice on each of the three hospitals in Spokane that unless the hospitals refused admittance to the plaintiff and his patients, they would boycott the hospitals. The defending doctors not only denied the charges but sought to prove that Dr. Robinson was guilty of incompetent, unneccessary and improper surgery. "Older Doctors Jealous" headlined the Spokane Daily Chronicle.

On December 10, Cannon made yet another of his motions to have the case dropped. The judge denied this, but on the following day he cleared St. Luke's and Sacred Heart Hospitals of the ouster charges, dropped from the case Drs. Lewis, Whittaker, Veasy, O'Shea, Gallagher, Pennock, Rhodehamel, Stenberg, Burger, and Rev. Warner and took under advisement Drs. Lawrence and Schulte.

The outside experts began to appear: Drs. J. Tate Mason of Seattle, W. R. Cubbins, and Alfred Strauss of Chicago all said they found little justification for most of Dr. Robinson's operative cases which they had reviewed. The most scathing denunciation came from Dr. H. J. Whitacre of Tacoma who pronounced many of Dr. Robinson's operations "reprehensible, shameful and damnable." The interchanges between the attorneys and between the attorneys and witnesses were spirited and often acrimonious, the histrionics at times unbelievable. As the trial wore on people began to get on each other's nerves. At one point Attorney Hamblen said to Dr. Robinson, who was basically a rather cheerful person, "I wish you would quit smiling at me, Doctor." At another point, Attorney Cannon pleaded, "I wish the Court would admonish counsel (Mr. Tustin) to be a gentleman. I know he can't, but tell him to try."

In response to the charges of improper surgery, Dr. Robinson said these charges were fraudulent and originally brought before the Deaconess Hospital Board of Trustees to damage him. In rebuttal he paraded a number of his female patients before the court to show they were happy and satisfied a result of his treatment. They were presented by number and not by name to preserve their anonymity. This is said to have come as a "bombshell" to the defense, which objected strenuously. Dr. Gallagher disparagingly referred to the performance as "Lydia Pinkham testimonials."

On December 20, Dr. Robinson is said to have put in some telling blows over the constant objections of the defense. No mean actor himself and a competent amateur artist, he spent much of the day instructing the jury in matters medical with the aid of skillfully executed drawings on a blackboard which had been brought into the courtroom for the purpose. There was no question that he was an effective witness and made a far better impression on the jury than some of his opponents. On December 24, the court adjourned for Christmas. In the midst of all the arguments and infighting, the sarcasm and bitterness, it seemed almost an irony when Judge Barnett wished the jurors and attorneys a "very Merry Christmas." By this time the trial was being referred to by some of the newspapers as "Judge Barnett's Surgical Clinic."

By December 31, the trial had gone into its 21st day. Frequent defense motions for dismissal had been denied. Then on New Year's Eve came the startling discovery that one juror was an employee in the kitchen at St. Luke's Hospital. This caused quite a furor, but the only action taken was to place the jury under lock and key. Judge Barnett spent over an hour delivering 24 instructions to the jury. The jury was directed to consider whether to vote on conspiracy involving all of the defendants, only some of them, or no conspiracy, at the same time deciding whether to hold the defendants liable for damages because of injury to the plaintiff through slander.

The jury spent New Year's Day of 1931 at the courthouse listening to the broadcast on the radio of the Rose Bowl Game between Washington State College and the University of Alabama. (Alabama won 24-0). The following day, the jury was exposed to a heavy barrage of defense arguments. Attorney Cannon pulled out all the stops. There were allusions to Florence Nightingale, Mary of the Cross, the Lord's Prayer, serving God and preserving souls for the Hereafter, religious beliefs, and eugenics. Dr. Robinson was accused of excessive pride, self will, arrogance, materialism, and finally admonished to "go out into the woods and cut down trees" where be could do but little harm. The headlines announced, "Robinson Case Bitterly Fought: the Opposing Attorneys Stop at Nothing in Their Tongue Lashings." Their tongues were described of being at times coated with vitriol. Throughout the entire trial, Betty Robinson had been an almost constant attendant, often dashing off on errands such as obtaining needed reference books.

On January 3, the jury received the case after 23 days of testimony. The following day, the jury arrived at a verdict by a vote of 10-2 after 14 hours and 25 minutes of deliberation. On January 5, the Spokesman Review put out an extra edition to announce the results. The jury awarded $30,000 to Dr. Robinson for slander and humiliation; damages for his exclusion from the hospital and the costs of building his own hospital were denied. The remaining defendants held involved in the conspiracy and slander charges were Drs. Welty, Smith, Seaberg, Hamblen, Hoxey, Nelson, Anderson. Ward, Schulte, and Lawrence. Among other things the jury obviously felt the Downs case had a great deal to do with this one despite defense protests to the contrary.

Without a doubt Dr. Robinson had won not only a material but a tremendous moral victory. The press and the public of the city hailed his triumph. Newspapers from distant cities ran full page accounts in their Sunday supplements praising the courageous efforts of the young doctor to vindicate his course of action. Patients showed their support by flocking to his new clinic and hospital, many of them leaving their former doctors to do so. As can be imagined, however, his stunning victory made him few friends among his colleagues in the medical community. Rifts and animosities were created, vestiges of which persisted for a great many years and in some instances were not forgotten until most of the principals involved in this painful affair had passed away.

The day after the verdict was rendered Mr. Cannon announced he would seek a new trial or appeal to a higher court. The damages awarded were alleged to be excessive and the jury prejudiced. The juror who was revealed to be an employee of St. Luke's Hospital was alleged to have talked about the case to her fellow workers and to have told them she was going to vote in favor of Dr. Robinson. Moreover the defendants maintained that their alleged actions had nothing to do with Dr. Robinson's testimony in the malpractice suit.

After much discussion on February 11, Judge Barnett reopened the suit. Because of their complexity be asked for written pleas from the attorneys.

On June 1, the verdict was set aside by the trial judge and a new trial granted. Finally on July 29, 1931, all of the participants agreed to settle the slander suit out of court rather than face the ordeal of another trial. The defendants agreed to pay all expenses of the trial, legal fees, and any expenses incurred by Dr. Robinson in defending himself against the charges which had been leveled against him. The total costs were estimated to be in the vicinity of $50,000. There was talk of an assessment of $300 for each member of the County Medical Society, but this proved unnecessary because of individual contributions. Dr. Robinson received no other money, although it was later rumored be had financed his new building with his awards. Actually it was vindication which be sought rather than money and one of the stipulations of the settlement was an agreement to reinstate Dr. Robinson into the County Medical Society although in fact this was not accomplished until almost 15 years later. As a result of these negotiations, the court signed an order dismissing the slander case against the 10 physicians.

Dr. Robinson's Rockwood Clinic Hospital opened its doors to 10 patients in 1930. It prospered mightily and within 11 years it was accommodating 75 bed patients. The number of employees had grown from four to 70 and six physicians had been added to the staff. Then came World War II and practically all of the medical staff, including Dr. Robinson, were called into the armed forces. How someone who was drawing a monthly check for disability incurred in the World War I would seem a suitable candidate for a Captain's commission in the Army and active duty in the present conflict seems a little mystifying. The operation of the hospital and clinic was terminated and the property and buildings which now included Dr. Robinson's newly erected home sold to Sacred Heart Hospital.

In the spring of 1944 while serving in France, Dr. Robinson suffered a coronary occlusion and upon recovering was discharged from the service. He returned to Spokane, purchased the old Burns home across the street from Sacred Heart Hospital and opened his office in this building. Although none of his former associates rejoined him, a new medical staff was gradually attracted and this was the beginning of the Rockwood Clinic of today. This time it was strictly a diagnostic and outpatient treatment facility. In the early 1950's Dr. Robinson's health began to fail and on February 5, 1957, while vacationing in Hawaii, he expired just three months before the occupation of the fine new clinic building at West 312 Eighth Avenue, which would have marked the realization of his dreams.


Dr. Carl Schlicke, M.D., wrote this article about Spokane surgeon Dr. William Witten Robinson, M.D. (1897-1957) whose career and practice were almost destroyed in 1929 when he testified against another physician in a malpractice suite. He sued his colleagues, hospitals, and the medical society for conspiracy and slander in a trial that drew nationwide attention. This article appeared in The Pacific Northwesterner, Vol. 27, No. 2 (Spring 1983), pp. 81-93, and is here edited by David Wilma and reprinted by permission. Dr. Schlicke was chief of Surgical Services at the Rockwood Clinic, chairman of the surgical committee at Sacred Heart Hospital, governor of the American College of Surgeons, and president of the Washington State Medical Association.

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