“Twisted ethics of an expert witness”

by Walter Olson on August 1, 2011

Horrifying Seattle Times investigation:

For a quarter century [Stuart] Greenberg testified as an expert in forensic psychology, an inscrutable field with immense power. Purporting to offer insight into the human condition, he evaluated more than 2,000 children, teenagers and adults. His word could determine which parent received custody of a child, or whether a jury believed a claim of sexual assault, or what damages might be awarded for emotional distress. …

His peers elected him their national president. But his formidable career was built upon a foundation of hypocrisy and lies.

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PointOfLaw Forum
08.01.11 at 8:11 am
Egregious Abuses by Expert Witnesses and Family Courts
08.03.11 at 7:41 am

{ 11 comments }

1 Mannie 08.01.11 at 8:32 am

Psychology is often less science than witch doctory.

2 William Nuesslein 08.01.11 at 9:40 am

The post was very good until it got to “priest whitewash.”

There were two trials that involved priests. Father Gauglin was sentenced to 4 years for goosing a boy during play in a swimming pool. That was a death sentence, as the good priest was beaten to death by a crazy guy. Father Shanley’s conviction was based upon the false science of repressed memory. The Massachusetts appellate court confirmed Massachusetts as the witch-craft-trial capitol of the world. The entire priest scandal was a hoax, where people wanting justice failed to understand the corruption of memory by suggestion and money. Although I believe the Catholic Church is more bad than good, I have Catholic friends, and it pains me that their meager resources were wasted on a fraud.

When a seemingly valid expose of psychobabble presumes the validity of enhanced memories, one has to throw the expose into the trash can.

3 Hans Bader 08.01.11 at 10:36 am

Some psychological “expert” witnesses will say just about anything — no matter how absurd — for a fee.

They will falsely claim that even mild, non-threatening workplace events cause Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, even though studies show that is impossible, and they will falsely claim in racial and sexual harassment lawsuits that politically-incorrect jokes cause PTSD, even though that is impossible, and such claims have been rebutted by reputable psychologists (including those who have themselves served as plaintiffs’ expert witnesses). (I once filed an amicus brief on behalf of an employer in a case where the plaintiffs’ expert witness did just that. The plaintiffs had not really experienced any harm, but got a million-dollar damage award).

Even well-intentioned psychologists often operate based on dubious assumptions that are empirically unfounded. Government-sponsored grief counseling has sometimes harmed its recipients, and grief counseling by psychologists after 9/11 backfired, as I note here, quoting from a recent New York Times story on the subject:

http://www.openmarket.org/2011/07/29/the-limits-of-government-funded-psychology-911-counseling-backfires/

It is no surprise to me that psychological-experts-for-hire would take baseless positions in child-custody disputes and sexual-assault cases just to earn a buck, ruining lives in the process.

4 Hugo S. Cunningham 08.01.11 at 11:18 am

I am a bit puzzled by Mr. Nuesslein’s reference to Massachusetts priest cases.

As far as I can make out, the “Seattle Times” expose on Stuart Greenberg
http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2015427070_greenberg26m.html
says nothing about Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts record is mixed, providing no particular grounds to question the article on Washington priests.

(1) I agree with Mr. Nuesslein that the Paul Shanley prosecution was a “repressed-memory” travesty, a perfect storm of anti-clerical sentiment working with a Church hierarchy eager to throw an openly gay priest to the wolves. Over the years, Shanley may have had improper relations with late teens and young adults, but not with the young children he was convicted of.
http://counterpunch.com/wypijewski01252010.html

(2) John Geoghan’s (not “Gauglin”s) 10-year sentence for fondling a kid getting out of a swimming pool was seen as “rough justice” for earlier, undisputed cases that had taken place beyond the statute of limitations. But his de-facto execution, for which no one (apart from the agent– a lifer with nothing to lose) was held accountable, was an atrocity.

Some of the other Boston cases are fraudulent as Mr. Nuesslin suggests, but enough of them were true to bring a public-relations nightmare for the Archdiocese of Boston, that they are eager to pay in both money and forfeited honor to escape from..

5 wfjag 08.01.11 at 12:54 pm

“Some (fill in the blank) “expert” witnesses will say just about anything — no matter how absurd — for a fee. ”
There, Hans, fixed it for you. An expert is someone with a suit, a briefcase, and letters after his/her name who is paid by an attorney’s client to say what the attorney wants to hear.
It’s not that hard to get the letters. “Dr.” Paul Grey, of “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” purchased his Ph.D. from Columbia Pacific University. They used to extensively advertise that degrees would be based at least largely “on life experience” (+ a sliding fee scale from Bachelor’s to Doctorate). There are lots of “non-traditional” degree mills out there.
Unfortunately, those who sound most convincing are frequently the least qualified and competent. True experts know the limits of their field and opinion, and honestly try to limit the scope of their opinions. In contrast, those who don’t know the subject expound like the voice of God. Juries, and judges, not infrequently are convinced by someone who sounds convincing, instead of listening to what is said and calling “B.S.” when it’s appropriate.
What I see as particularly reprehensible in Greenberg’s case is that the State of Washington deliberately suppressed the information about his incompetence and lack of ethics. Exposure of that would have ended his trail of destruction much earlier. Instead, in true bureaucratic fashion, avoiding controversy was more important than protecting the public. But, that is hardly limited to psychologists, or state entities.

6 CPUWatch 08.01.11 at 6:20 pm

WFJAG is so confused that he/she cannot even remember the name of John Gray, the author of “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus”. She/he claims that the book’s author is “Paul Grey”. So what sort of expert is this confused person on Columbia Pacific University?

My advice: Please be careful and check your facts from reliable sources before you make comments. Also, perhaps consult your therapist why you have the need to abuse and slander a best selling writer who writes smarter and better books than most PhDs.

CPU was a California State accredited (approved) school and its degrees are legal and valid In California and beyond. Many CPU graduates are on faculty with well established universities. Its graduates include Dr. Robert Shurney, NASA engineer, instrumental in the Apollo landing on the Moon and Rensselaer physicist Dr. George Vargo who managed the Chernobyl cleaning up project.

For the real facts on CPU, please, go to:

http://www.columbia-pacific-university.net/
http://www.cpuniv.us/

7 Ron Miller 08.01.11 at 8:31 pm

Good golly we are reaching new heights in silly comments.

Entire priest scandal was a hoax. How can you respond to that? In a zillion years, our Pope would never, ever even intimate something like this. No one serious is saying this.

Understand that repressed memory is legal junk: a way around the statute of limitations. I don’t think there is a lot of good science for repressed memory but it has nothing to do with the merits of the case. The fact that you have an SOL defense does not mean you did not commit atrocities.

This line slays me: “Over the years, Shanley may have had improper relations with late teens and young adults, but not with the young children he was convicted of.” Really? You draw the line that thin, huh? You sure the 17 year-olds were liars but the 18 year olds were not? Incredible.

Experts need to be qualified as experts. Saying anyone with a PhD can testify at trial is silly. John Gray, Paul Grey, Zane Gray, they all need to be qualified to testify beyond just a degree.

(Note: I think if you have a really, really relevant link, by all means, it is appropriate for a comment. But just link baiting comments left and right… it is annoying.)

8 Walter Olson 08.01.11 at 8:57 pm

While there is (obviously) some degree of toleration for off-topic discussions here, I am moderating off a stray comment or two about particular degree-granting institutions and their graduates. If readers are curious about the personalities or institutions, there is a wealth of information both pro and con as close as Google.

9 antiredistributionist 08.02.11 at 1:56 pm

How can one say that “repressed memory is legal junk” but that has “nothing to do with the merits of the case” if the case rests on repressed memory?

10 Bob Lipton 08.03.11 at 8:24 am

It means it’s junk but it’s legal.

Bob

11 William Nuesslein 08.03.11 at 8:54 am

I am surprised by Mr. Cunningham’s sense of law. Father Geoghan was charged with the swimming pool event alone, he should not have been punished for events not at issue. Since the swimming pool charge was foolish, why wasn’t a really substantial event tried. The same problem comes from Father Shanley. The charges in his case were truly substantial, weekly rapes during religious instruction. The charges were so extreme as to be completely incredible, like the claim of being sodomized by a butcher knife without any tare in tissue. The court and the people of Massachusetts error-ed terribly if Father Shanley was punished for matters not tried.

My argument about the priest is based on my observation that the two trials concerning charges of actual molestation showed nothing of the sort. I believe the convictions resulted from the community’s belief that the Catholic Church was covering up its tolerance of abuse by its priests. The juries and the judges probably worked from a presumption of guilt. The thousands of bogus cases based on repressed memories and the day-care trials show that there can be no fire within hysterical smoke. I doubt the validity of all the charges in the priest scandal.

I believe that putting Father Geoghan in prison as a child molester was the sin murder, even though not the felony of murder, by the boy who testified, his mother, and the judge.

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