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Island doctor heads to court on allegations of 'unprofessional conduct'

Dr. Sjardo Steneker, a family practice physician on Vashon, headed to a hearing Monday on allegations that he became sexually involved with a handful of women who were current or former patients, considered “unprofessional conduct” under state law.

Steneker will face a four-day hearing in Kent before Judge Jerry Mitchell, a health law judge. The trial, which is open to the public, begins Monday. Tammy Kelley, a case manager with the state Department of Health, said there's still a chance the case could settle before it reaches the courtroom.

According to a statement of charges filed on Dec. 3, 2009, Steneker, who is not married, got involved with four women in 2007 and 2008; three of them were patients or former patients, the state says; one of them, charging papers show, was the mother of two children who were patients of Steneker. The state's charges were later amended to include allegations that Steneker became involved with two other female patients.

Steneker terminated the physician-patient relationship a few days before his relationship with one of the women started, according to the state's charges; in another instance, the patient had found a new primary-care doctor one year before the two became involved.

State law, however, says doctors are not to get involved with current or former patients; the length of time that must pass before such a relationship can begin with a former patient depends on a number of factors, according to state code, including the nature of the patient’s health problems, “the degree of emotional dependence and vulnerability” and the extent to which the patient has confided in the physician.

Should he be found guilty of the state’s charges, he could get his license suspended for up to five years, said Tracy Bahm, the assistant attorney general who's arguing the case for the state. Complete revocation of his license is also a possibility. Bahm said she'll likely recommend a sanction at the conclusion of the four-day hearing.

Steneker, a Dutch-born physician who has provided medical care on Vashon since 1995, has a robust practice at his clinic, Vashon Family Practice, including many patients who strongly support him.

Last year, he filed a response to the state denying all of the charges and requesting a hearing to contest the allegations. Bob Krinsky, Steneker's lawyer, declined to discuss how he plans to defend Steneker, saying only, "My strategy is to seek the truth."

Were Steneker to lose his license for five years, Krinsky added, "It will hurt him, his family and the Island as a whole."

The trial is held only before the judge, without a jury. Mitchell is expected to issue a ruling on the case in 30 to 90 days, Bahm said.

State health officials have charged Steneker with infractions twice before. As a result of the first set of charges, he was ordered to pay a fine and take an ethics course. The state dropped the second set of charges in March 2008, after a three-member panel said he had not committed the alleged infractions and deserved a “public exoneration.”

The hearing will be held at the Department of Health Building at 20435 72nd Ave. S., Room 2, in Kent.

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