Face-off: The Confounding Case of Marchioni v. Keyes

One woman sued Keyes alleging that a piece of a surgical instrument was left lodged in her face. Another woman sued alleging that an eye-lift performed by Keyes left her unable to shut her eyes.

In the ruthlessly competitive world of L.A. plastic surgeons, the impact of this exposure can’t be overestimated. Whether it’s being included on a women’s magazine list of “Top Doctors for the Most Wanted Procedures Coast to Coast” or getting quoted in Us Weekly discussing Pamela Anderson’s implant removal, positive media exposure gives a doctor credibility. Writing a book (like Dr. Robert Kotler’s recent Secrets of a Beverly Hills Cosmetic Surgeon: The Expert’s Guide to Safe, Successful Surgery) or creating a DVD series (like Dr. Garth Fisher’s new five-volume The Naked Truth About Plastic Surgery: A Home Consultation with a Prominent Beverly Hills Plastic Surgeon) lends a certain respectability. But when it comes to impressing the greatest number of prospective clients, nothing beats the television interview.

Keyes’s TV victory lap was the kind of attention that publicists—and many L.A. plastic surgeons have them—fantasize about. Tripp was a recognizable figure not known for her beauty. To be positioned as the doctor who had turned homely to glamorous was pure gold.

At the time, Tripp said nothing. In July 2000, though, just as Marchioni went in for surger3; an outline of a proposed Tripp autobiography began quietly making the rounds in New York. Tripp was trying to sell a book by hinting she would tell all about the Clintons. “Convenient Scapegoat,” one chapter was titled. “Subpoenaed Again,” read another. But toward the end of the outline, she also took a swipe at Keyes. Chapter 28 was titled “Under the Knife,” and a summary of its contents read: “True story (not so pretty) behind my plastic surgery. Fixing Doc Hollywood’s butchery.” Publishers passed on the book.

It wasn’t until February 2nd that Tripp broke her silence. Appearing on Larry King Live, she looked great, and King told her so, complimenting her plastic surgeon on a job well done. Tripp told him all credit was due to a Virginia doctor named Mark Richards. Six months after Keyes had performed Tripp’s face-lift, it turns out, Tripp had sought out Richards to fix Keyes’s work—an operation she would later describe as “major repairs, nine hours.”

“He brought me back,” Tripp said of Richards. “He actually did the corrective surgery because my first surgery was such a disaster. And that doctor,” she said, referring obliquely to Keyes, “went on a 15-minutes-of-fame television talking tour, which was horrible.”

For his part, Keyes says Tripp never told him she was unhappy with his work. “There was no complication whatsoever on Linda Tripp,” he says. “Period.” Keyes still has excerpts of the Good Morning America and Dateline interviews on his Web site, and until recently, callers to his office who asked if Keyes was the doctor who “did” Tripp were told yes.

For Marchioni, meanwhile, the revelations about Tripp’s dissatisfaction validated her own complaints. Marchioni was certain that she wanted to sue Keyes. If only she could find a lawyer.

“I’d say I approached 40 lawyers in L.A.,” she says. “They’d want pictures and documents, and I’d FedEx it to them so they’d get it as quickly as possible. And then a couple of weeks later they’d send it back U.S. mail. ‘Sorry’ they’d say. Then they’d add the standard boilerplate: ‘This is not to say that your case does not have merit.'”

No one spelled out their reasons for turning her down. Keyes’s lawyers would later argue that the lack of interest only proved her case was weak. But Marchioni felt there was another reason for the lawyers’ lack of enthusiasm: the state law that caps the amount that juries can award to medical malpractice plaintiffs. “It was because of the cap,” she says. “They felt it wasn’t worth their time.”

Marchioni would have been a great private investigator. She is organized. She is persistent. She faxes constantly. “Here is a plastic surgeon who is personally acquainted with Geoffrey Keye’s,” she will write, sending along a name and phone number in Wisconsin. Another day comes this.” I located six more pages of names from Keye’s medical school class.” Keyes is Marchioni’s crusade, and her devotion never flags.

It wasn’t always this way. “The first time I talked to Kay, she was very deferential. Kind of scared,” says Lana Feldman, an attorney who had previously represented another plaintiff against Keyes. “The next time I heard from her, month later, she was like a different person almost. Like: ‘I had made up my mind. I am not just going to sit back and take this.'”

What ignited Marchioni—what would eventually prompt her to spend more than $50,000 of her retirements savings, post an additional $52,000 in bonds, and invest hundreds of hours of her time—was her discovery of Keyes’s other dissatisfied patients. At first she sought out their lawsuits to get the names of their lawyers. She needed to file suit before the one-year statute of limitations expired. She thought maybe a lawyer who’d already sued Keyes might want to take him on again.

But what began as a legal referral strategy quickly became a source of psychic fuel. Each case she read—first the eight Southern California cases, then the 14 Chicago cases—spoke of heartbreak and disappointment. With every complaint she read about Keyes, she was struck by similarities to her own.

There was Ana Diaz (Keyes plaintiff no. 12), a 27-year-old secretary who had gone to Keyes to have her breasts reduced. Her cup size was F—so large that she was experiencing curvature of the spine and had to put athletic socks under her bra straps to keep them from cutting into her flesh. She says Keyes told her he’d make her a C. Instead, she ended up barely an A. But that’s not the only reason she sued. After the surgery she alleged, her body had trouble healing. She was in the shower one day when her nipples fell off. “They were lost when they washed down the drain,” she says. Because she worked in the Chicago hospital where she’d undergone surgery she easily obtained a copy of her postoperative report and was horrified by what it said. “It blew me away: ‘Radical double mastectomy’ I thought, ‘That’s not what I signed up for,'” she says. But a week later, according to Diaz and another hospital employee who recalls seeing the document, the record had been replaced with one that said “Bilateral breast reduction.”

When Diaz complained, she says, Keyes dismissively offered to give her breast implants. She declined. For years afterward, she alleges, her scars would erupt in boris. Diaz says Keyes offered a $200,000 settlement (an assertion Keyes would neither confirm nor deny), but she rejected it. The case went to trial, with Keyes’s attorneys arguing that because Diaz was a large woman—more than 200 pounds—he had trouble estimating how much tissue to take. They also noted how well things were going for Diaz. Since the surgery she’d become an Allstate insurance agent with a $58,000 salary she had found a new boyfriend, and she had vacationed in Hawaii. “She’s making more money and working less in recent years,” Keyes’s lawyer said in his closing argument. “She’s doing fairly well.” In 1994, a jury sided with Keyes.

Patricia Bacall (Keyes plaintiff no. 21) sued Keyes for $5,000 in small-claims court after he operated on her nose, chin, and eyes in 1998. “My chin implant was so large that I looked like a female Jay Leno,” Bacall, a Los Angeles graphic designer and yoga instructor, said in a declaration filed in the Marchioni case. Keyes operated twice more to address her complaints. But “again the chin implant was too large and gave me a strange appearance,” Bacall’s declaration said. At the first court appearance for her suit, Keyes approached Bacall. “His demeanor was threatening and intimidating,” according to the declaration. “He said, ‘You can’t possibly win against me! I will beat you!'” Bacall had paid $8,000 for the operations. Keyes paid her $2,500 to drop her complaint.

Elizabeth Madearis (Keyes plaintiff no.22) claimed Keyes had botched her chin implant, using outmoded methods and cutting her unnecessarily in places (Keyes settled the case). Marchioni read Madearis’s complaint and heard echoes of her own. “Plaintiff has sustained severe and permanent injuries, losses and damages including … trauma and damages to the nerves, muscles and soft tissues of the mouth and face,” the complaint read. Madearis also listed other maladies, including “grossly oversized, unwarranted and unnecessary incision under the chin, resulting in scarring and disfigurement; improper suturing of the neck, leaving puncture scarring.”

“I [was] trying to scream,” Madearis, a Glendale hypnotherapist, said in her sworn deposition, describing how a local anesthetic failed to numb her pain. “I tried to look at him straight in the eye and speak to him to tell him that I could feel him cutting into my neck…. I was trying to say ‘pain.’ I kept trying to say that word over and over…. He’s in there cutting away.”

Marchioni looked at the words “unnecessary incision” and felt a pang. Keyes denied it, but that’s what Marchioni said he’d given her: an unnecessary incision on her chin. Marchioni called Lana Feldman, the attorney who had represented Madearis in her suit against Keyes. Feldman, too, was struck. “Here were two people that had never talked to each other, never met each other, came from different parts of the United States,” she says. “What was remarkable was that in terms of the issues that were of concern to me in the Madearis case that seemed to be bizarre, Kay was saying the same thing. Parts of their stories were substantially similar.”

Feldman didn’t feel she could afford to take Marchioni’s case. “I am a sole practitioner,” she says. “Medical malpractice cases are not easily won. It would be waves of discovery and an extensive amount of time. Lawyers need to pay the bills, too.” But she vowed to help Marchioni find another lawyer.

Marchioni was running out of time. She’d filed a letter of intent to sue, which gave her another three months. But as she was turned down by lawyer after lawyer, she realized she was going to have to write the complaint herself She turned to Marinka Peschmann—the ghostwriter on Linda Tripp’s book proposal—whom Marchioni tracked down after hearing Leno’s monologue. Together they pored over a 1992 lawsuit filed against Keyes by Gloria Arrasmith (Keyes plaintiff no. 16), who alleged that part of a scissors had been left in her face during surgery (the case was settled). Using Arrasmith’s suit as a template, the two women hammered out a 26-page complaint that alleged personal injuries due to medical negligence, batterry, lack of informed consent, falsification of documents, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Fourteen months after her surgery on September 19, 2001, Marchioni became Keyes plaintiff no. 23.

Marchioni couldn’t help herself. Once she knew about the others, she wanted to talk to them. Not everybody was happy to hear from her. Marianne Medema (Keyes plaintiff no. 4) was spooked. The emergency medical technician, who sued Keyes in 1981 after breast implants he inserted got infected and had to be removed, had married—and changed her name—twice since then. “I don’t know why Kay would go and intrude on my life like that,” she says. “She found my home phone number, which is not listed. It was weird.”

Medema, whose lawsuit was dismissed, she says, after her medical records went missing, was uncomfortable when Marchioni sent her a Christmas card, no return address, to the fire department in Roselle, Illinois, where she works. Still, she was curious. “Twenty-three years later, I’m disfigured,” she says, explaining why she filed a declaration in support of Marchioni’s lawsuit. “Just like Kay.”

Gail Mattucci (Keyes plaintiff no. 7) welcomed Marchioni’s call. It had been 22 years, she says, since a nose job Keyes performed caused her nose to partially collapse. When she complained to Keyes at the time, she says, “I remember he just talked to me like I was bothering him. He literally had this forceps locked in my nose, and he said, ‘How dare you tell me you don’t have an airway.'” On another occasion, Mattucci claims, Keyes became irate and yelled at her: “Get out of my office!” She sued, and lost. Now a vice president of sales and marketing for the Chicago Tribune, Mattucci told Marchioni she would pay her own way to come to California for the trial. She was eager to look Keyes in the eye one more time.

“I told Kay, ‘I’ll be on the next plane,'” Mattucci says. Diaz told Marchioni the same thing. They were talking pretty regularly now—Diaz was coaching her on how to get through the stress of a trial, passing on a recipe for mojitos and recommending hot baths. Talking to the plaintiffs, Marchioni became convinced she had found a community to which she belonged.

Marchioni found Michael McCarty (Keyes plaintiff no. 10) at his home in Boaz, Alabama. He provided her with a written declaration about Keyes, whom he holds partially responsible for the amputation of his right leg below the knee after he was injured in a car accident. “Geoffrey R. Keyes thinks he is God,” wrote McCarty, whose lawsuit was dismissed. “He is quite the opposite.”

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