Currently in San Diego, there has been a flurry of stories, e-mails, telephone calls, and gossip, relating to a well-known and well-respected psychotherapist who has been sued by a person who apparently didn't look too good in the doctor's evaluation in a custody case. In general, lawyers and therapists in the family law community are outraged that the doctor, who on advice of counsel is saying nothing, has been tarred by a member of the media based on the ravings of a losing litigant in a custody dispute [like you'd expect the loser to be rational on the subject].
The reporter for KGTV in San Diego never bothered to discuss the case with well respected experts in the field before doing a hit piece on television, or at least didn't quote them - to compound the problem, a local "dog trainer" ran a similar story containing massive amounts of misrepresentations because its "reporter" only listened to one side of the case. They obviously didn't care how experts are chosen and what is important - I can attest to the fact their resumes are largely irrelevant.
I have never used this particular therapist to do evaluations in any of my cases, although I believe he had been appointed to treat some of the children over the years. I have known him only by reputation and an occasional brief conversation at one Bar function or another over the last 25 years - I doubt I have had a total of an hour of discussion with him in that period - we have no personal relationship, but I have a great deal of empathy for him and his position at this stage of an illustrious career. I can add my 3 decades of experience to help non-lawyers understand the situation.
Allegedly, there are several minor misstatements claimed in his 5 page resume - I checked several of the claims against a 3 year old resume of the doctor I received at a seminar where he spoke - I couldn't find that he'd made the claims I checked, let alone that he was wrong, or lying. He has no need to pad out the resume. The "investigation" shows he is not a member of a couple of organizations with names similar to those he has listed, but obviously not the same.
Some local TV reporter [a field populated by those whose primary qualifications relate to which makeup counter at Nordstrom they frequent, and I've know quite a few] has chosen to listen to a few disgruntled litigants, rather than the lawyers and judges who rely on his reports year after year to ferret out the ferrets in our cases, hopefully so that children will be protected, or even just grow up happier. Neither reporter bothered to speak to legitimate sources for their opinions of the dispute, just a handful of the parents he has examined and treated. Typical slash and burn, leaving wreckage in their wake.
I have a few stories that come to mind as a result of this story. In one, a friend was sued after being appointed by the court as the children's attorney - the lawyer recommended more time to one parent - the other sued "on behalf of the children" claiming the lawyer had committed legal malpractice in reaching the conclusion - that parent tried to be in charge of their case, although they lived with the other. The case went nowhere, but the lawyer had to pay an insurance deductible and sit back and worry for months until the case was dismissed - this lawyer had been a valuable resource to the courts for years, but as a result decided there was no upside to continuing to be paid to act as minor's counsel [often at $60 per hour by the court, which doesn't cover overhead], and hasn't done it since. Novel legal theory, but really just the ravings of a dissatisfied parent.
A second friend was a therapist for young children whose parents were trapped in a custody battle. During therapy, the children asked that the therapist to do something to protect them from their father - a declaration was written to be used to gain some protection while the court sorted out the issue. Probably at the instigation of his lawyer [affectionately known by some as "The Dick", and described by others as "soulless"] the father, after losing the custody dispute, tried to have the therapist's license to practice suspended. After thousands of dollars in defense, the therapist was vindicated, but remains gun shy whenever the thought of being involved in the court process comes up. When we try to find therapists for children in custody cases, the vast majority refuse if there is any chance they may be required to testify - a huge loss to the public, and the courts.
The third case is the other side of the coin. A client came to see me on referral from a friend/lawyer who felt the case was too hotly contested and that the client needed someone stronger than she wanted to be. The first thing I did was tell the client he didn't present well [a euphemism for a bad personality] - at my direction, he sought counseling with a therapist I recommended. Over a period of several months, he changed when he realized how others saw him. He went from a 20% time share to primary care - not by suing the prior therapist in the case, but by recognizing that he had some impact on how he was perceived. When the case ended, I got a note from him that I had changed his life - I was shocked, as I had done so little - he had changed his own life, I just confronted him on his conduct.
Fathers in custody cases generally fare more poorly than mothers. It's not that they are bad parents, it's primarily that they were less involved when the family was intact - the courts generally end up preserving the status quo, which means that the mother generally ends up with more time. Some fathers resent that outcome, but it is predictable based on their role during the marriage. Some are just bad parents [there are a lot of mothers who are just as bad]. Some lawyers exploit the fathers' resentment, without trying to explain why there appears to be prejudice, and what can be done to overcome it [which may take a few years of changed conduct].
We need to understand that the courts have insufficient resources to resolve complicated custody disputes. As a long time judge has said "I don't get paid to make the right decision, I just get paid for making decisions." They need therapists and lawyers willing to take on these cases to give them guidance, without fear that the media will listen to the disgruntled loser and fail to present a balanced view of the issue.
In the case in the news, the court didn't help: It's response was that judges don't check out the resumes or credentials, they rely on the lawyers to do so.
I regularly pick experts for custody evaluations, therapists, appraisers, income analyzers, etc. - I rarely even see their resume, and generally don't care what is on it - I rely on the advice of friends and colleagues, and my own experience using or watching them. Are they pretty consistent in their opinions? Can they support their positions if they are called to the witness stand without folding up under cross examination? How much do they charge? Do they prepare reports in a timely fashion? Do they consistently view the world from a biased perspective [such as routinely siding with mothers or fathers, for example]? Are they well respected by other lawyers and judges, so their reports help settle cases?
The resume? I only care about it if the expert is on my side and I need to qualify him or her as an expert at trial. Do I care whether someone listed himself as a "Fellow" of an organization, when in reality he was a "Diplomat" because that is the label it puts on its members, or that he says he was a member of an organization 10 years ago, but isn't paying dues any longer or otherwise lost interest? Do I care whether an organization to which he belongs has any standards? NOPE! I just want him to do a good job. And, I have no way of checking out the organizations to know whether they exists or have any requirements of membership.
I acknowledge that about 10 years ago a "therapist" was exposed for lacking an important certification and degree when someone pinned her down during cross-examination, and everyone was shocked. The person had started out providing a service, and somewhere along the line a few lawyers started asking for reports - although not qualified to write them, they were written until a diligent lawyer tried to determine whether she was even licensed to do the work she had taken on. That is hardly the case here - the therapist in the news has been well tested on the witness stand by the best, many times, and always comes out unscathed.
We need a free press, but it needs to be responsible or it is useless. Here, it has done some real damage to the future of child custody litigation. KGTV owes an apology to the public, the courts, and the therapist for shoddy reporting, yet its reporter is sticking by the story she told solely through the mouths of troubled people, while doing an inadequate job of confirming the allegations she reported.