Legislators vow to close legal loophole that allowed felony sex assault to be dropped

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MADISON, Wis. - A doctor who is accused of sexually assaulting a patient is no longer facing a felony charge due to a loophole in Wisconsin law.

Now state legislators are working to close that loophole.

According to court documents, a female patient accused then-doctor Michael Thom (he has since forfeited his medical license) of kissing her breast, inappropriately touching her and making her inappropriately touch him. She said each time, she said, “No you can’t do that.”

Court documents also show he sent her multiple pictures of himself naked.

She brought these allegations to the police, but when it finally got to court this month, Thom's lawyers argued the felony should be dropped, citing a subsection of the state statute on second-degree sexual assault, which prohibits doctors from having sexual contact with clients at just about every type of hospital or clinic except the one Thom worked at.

The loophole meant the felony, punishable by up to 40 years in prison, would be dropped. Now he faces a misdemeanor charge, punishable by up to nine months in jail.

When state Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, heard what happened, she knew she had to fix it.

“It became really clear to me that we as a Legislature need to stand up and take seriously our job to make sure Wisconsin is a safe place,” Sargent said. “That is not the case right now.”

She said she has begun drafting bipartisan legislation with republican state Rep. Jim Ott to try and close the gap in current laws. The district attorney said state Rep. Lisa Subeck is hoping to do the same.

Erin Thornley Parisi, the executive director for the Rape Crisis Center, said she is glad to hear the legislators are reaching across the aisle.

“I think that's awesome,” she said. “I'm really excited about that. To see this bipartisan effort is really hopeful to me.”

Thornley Parisi said sexual assault can often become a progressive issue, but legislators say they're happy to come together to fix what they see as an obvious and infuriating oversight.

“This is absolutely not OK,” Sargent said. “This is one of the most egregious things that I have heard of, and we need to take action right now. Put divisiveness aside, put partisanship aside and realize that this is the real reason why we are here.”

The Legislature is tied up with budget talks now, but Sargent said this legislation will go through as soon as possible.

If and when that does happen, the district attorney said Thom still couldn't be charged under a new law.