Florence Fruehan did not offer any words to explain his conduct this afternoon as he tendered a plea to a felony count of battery on a person 65 or older.
Circuit Judge Terence Perkins asked him if he had any questions. At first Fruehan, who seemed dazed by the moment and looking away from the judge as he stood before him, immobile, didn’t respond. The judge asked him again. Fruehan shook his head, no.
Several people familiar with or directly involved in the case had turned out, including investigators and a top official from a local organization sheltering victims of domestic violence. But Fruehan did not make a statement–no apologies, no explanation for why women, his own patients of long date, accused him of groping them inappropriately during routine visits or requests for prescriptions at his Palm Coast office.
He had no reason to: the plea agreement was all but signed by the judge. When defendants address the court in those circumstances, it’s usually because the sentence is still dependent on the judge’s discretion and they’re hoping to sway the judge to be lenient, though there are times when defendants feel they must address their victims. In this case, the disposition of the case was arranged between the State Attorney’s Office, the victims, and Fruehan, with the judge left to ratify the agreement. So Fruehan kept silent, a statement in itself.
Fruehan had faced criminal charges four times before since 1995, including a 2006 charge of molesting a patient–a second-degree felony. But the charges were dropped at every turn, until two felony counts of battery the sheriff filed in January. Fruehan initially pleaded not guilty and appeared to be preparing a defense all the way to trial. That changed abruptly this week, when he agreed to a plea agreement.
He pleaded no contest to one felony count. The second count was dropped, as was a misdemeanor charge. He was sentenced to 24 months of probation. He may terminate the probation at the 12-month mark, assuming he meets all the conditions of probation, which include a mental health evaluation and treatment, if recommended.
Fruehan may not have any kind of contact with any of the victims who came forward–not just the one victim named in the felony count to which he pleaded. But the agreement also stipulates that the state may not bring any new charges against Fruehan involving any of those victims named in state attorney documents so far. The restriction does not apply to new allegations involving patients or individuals who have not yet been named and may come forward.
Perkins withheld adjudication. That means if Fruehan fulfills the terms of his probation, he will not be considered a convicted felon. That would change should he violate his probation.
Fruehan sat, stone-faced, looking dead ahead, in the last row of the courtroom’s benches, waiting for the judge to arrive. When his case was called he joined his attorney, Warren Lindsey, at a podium in front of Perkins. He did not change demeanor. There were no formalities, no greetings.
“Would it be appropriate to refer to you as Dr. Fruehan?” Perkins asked him.
“I would appreciate it,” Fruehan said.
Fruehan still has the degrees that credentialed him to be a physician. But he no longer has the medical license allowing him to practice. He surrendered it as part of a deal with the state Department of Health following an investigation into alleged sexual improprieties. That was the case that, along with reporting on it, led to the Flagler Sheriff’s Office’s renewed investigation of Fruehan (after a deputy, no longer with the agency, had taken a report from the same woman but not gone beyond that.) This time the case was assigned to veteran detectives, who developed the case that led to several charges.
The cases mirrored each other: female patients would go to Fruehan’s office, and he would find various pretenses to end up alone with them in a room, where he would allegedly grope or touch them inappropriately.
Perkins asked him how he was pleading.
“No contest, your honor,” Fruehan said in a barely audible voice, though he’d never been known to have a quiet voice, or to be less than voluble.
The judge went through the conditions of the plea, asking clarifying questions about the medical license, which Fruehan may not regain. He is barred from practicing medicine or in any medically related field from now on, even after the end of his probation.
Individuals on probation are required to stay in the county where they are serving their probation, absent permission from the court. Fruehan’s attorney said his client lives near the Volusia County line, and that he was seeking to have the freedom to travel to Volusia, Duval and St. Johns counties. The judge granted permission. The attorney then said Fruehan wanted to take his 21-year-old daughter to a university in North Carolina to help her move in between Aug. 24 and Aug. 26. “I do not have a specific objection to that but the devil is in the details,” the judge said, deferring the details to Fruehan’s probation officer.
Felons are usually finger-printed after their plea and sentence. He was not. It’s not clear why. He was directed to have his first meeting with a probation officer, and he walked out, as relatively free as he’d walked in: except for the two hours of his booking at the Flagler County jail on January 16, he is not expected to step foot in there again, if he abides by the terms of his probation.
“Our detectives have done a great job working this case and working with the State Attorney’s Office to seek justice for the victims,” Sheriff Rick Staly said in a release his office issued shortly after the hearing. “I hope the victims see this as a positive outcome and find peace knowing that he will never practice medicine again.”