There were a lot of red faces among Texan lawmakers on Friday as they learned that a Fort Worth doctor, twice honored as the "doctor of the day," was a registered sex offender and convicted of an illicit relationship with a 17-year-old.
The "doctor of the day" is on call to assist legislators, their staff members and the public with medical needs.
Dr. Nilon Tallant, 75, was introduced by lawmakers in 2006 and again in January of this year's legislative session, even though one legislator said he'd warned others about the physician's past sex offense after his first appearance.
"I don't think anybody that's a convicted sex offender should have a medical license in Texas. Period," said Republican Rep. Phil King, who introduced Tallant in the House chamber in April 2006. Tallant now lives in King's district, but King said he doesn't know Tallant well.
King said he found out "through the grapevine" after Tallant's first appearance in the House chamber that the doctor was a sex offender. He said he passed that information on to the House speaker's office and the medical association that screens doctors for the duty.
Tallant used to practice family medicine in the San Marcos area, where the conviction occurred.
Texas Medical Board records state that in late 1995 Tallant began "an improper sexual relationship" with a 17-year-old female patient for whom he had once prescribed medication. He pleaded guilty in 1997 to sexual performance by a child. He was placed on probation for 10 years and fined $1,000, according to board records.
His medical license was revoked but reinstated in 2001, records show.
The Texas Academy of Family Physicians issued a statement saying it regrets that Tallant was selected as a participating doctor and that its executive director cannot recall a similar situation involving the program.
"Like our patients, we rely on information at the medical board to help determine eligibility of physicians to participate in the Physician of the Day program. Unfortunately it is now clear there are holes in the information provided on the Texas Medical Board Web site," the statement said.
Because of the incident, the family physicians academy said, it would strengthen its screening of the volunteer doctors.
Lolly Lockhart, a nurse consultant of Tallant said that he was a " a very fine upstanding physician and citizen."
She said the criminal charge resulted from his mistake in judgment and involved the relative of a woman he once dated. The young woman allegedly tried several times to seduce the doctor when he was divorced and lonely, Lockhart said.
"He's not a predator at all," she said.
Tallant is now remarried. He practices medicine part time on a fill-in basis and enjoys volunteer work, including the Capitol duty, Lockhart said.
In January, Rep. Leo Berman, a Tyler Republican, said he was unaware of Tallant's criminal past when he was asked to introduce him.
"I introduced the doctor — never seen him before in my life," Berman recalled. "The speaker yelled down, 'Leo, could you introduce the doctor of the day so we can get started?' "
Berman said it's "horrendous" that Tallant was allowed to be the doctor for the day and that he believes there should be tougher screening of the doctors and of clergy members who appear to present the prayer each day at the Legislature.