Illinois-Wisconsin FMS Society

June 2001 Vol. 7, no. 2

Legal breakthrough in Wisconsin!

Karen and Charles Johnson of St. Louis won a significant step forward in their third party lawsuit in the Wisconsin Supreme Court recently (Johnson v. Rogers Memorial Hospital). On June 19th the Court upheld, without dissent, the Johnsons’ right to continue to pursue their case by ordering the case to be returned to the circuit court, where it had started. The normal process of building a judicial record will now begin. Depositions will be taken, hearings held and so forth. The circuit court, and the court of appeals, had originally dismissed the Johnsons’ case without a hearing.

This is another notch on attorney Bill Smoler’s belt this year. Bill is the attorney who also won the Sawyer case. The editors think that once a record has been established in the Johnson case, Smoler will possibly have to make another appearance before the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Key questions such as confidentiality or other questions may then be argued. If the Johnsons should prevail and ultimately complete their case, then the crack which the Sawyer case opened for third party lawsuits in Wisconsin will have become a wide open gateway. We are all grateful to the Johnsons and their gifted attorney for their dogged pursuit of this significant case, a case which other attorneys considered very difficult and refused.

Members of our Society made the trip to Madison Wisconsin on April 6th to attend the Supreme Court hearing in this case. There was also a group of about fifty high school and community college students in attendance who listed with rapt attention to the Justices’ questioning.

The Johnsons will be speaking about third party law suits at our conference in Bloomington, Illinois on October 13th (see below.)


Bloomington, IL conference

October 13th

In a first, the Illinois-Wisconsin FMS Society will hold a downstate mini-conference in Bloomington, Illinois on October 13th. The Johnsons, whose legal breakthrough we report upon above, will discuss third party law suits. By the time of the conference there will be much more to report on. The Johnsons have been the leading Missouri FMS activists as long as we can remember. In earlier years they were very active in leading the attempt to get legislation passed in Missouri to protect consumers against bad therapy.

The featured speaker at the conference will be Ken Merlino who is an associate of Todd Smith, the lead attorney who successfully handled the $10 million settlement for the Burgus family. Ken is currently with the prestigious Chicago law firm of Power, Rogers & Smith. Formerly he was with Mayer, Brown & Platt, one of the country’s leading law firms. He will discuss current FMS litigation that he is dealing with -- two cases in Illinois and one in Texas – as well as other recent cases.

Our round table discussions should also prove interesting. One, which will focus on "How to deal with various types of returnees", should benefit from the results of a survey on your experiences with returnees, which the Steering Committee recently decided to conduct. Results from this survey should be available by the time of the conference. The conference is expected to attract attendees from neighboring states because of Bloomington’s central location. Conference costs, including box supper, are very moderate – only $10 per person whenever you register. Registration materials will be found as an insert in this newsletter. If you haven’t done so already, register now!

Note: the fall conference announced in the March newsletter for the Chicago area was cancelled because Paul McHugh was not available as a speaker. Instead we are holding our first conference in downstate Illinois.

Roberta Sachs

Therapist Bobbie Sachs was the assistant of Bennett Braun, the Chicago therapist who had his license suspended and had to settle numerous lawsuits against him. Sachs is still being investigated by the Illinois Department of Professional Regulation, according to our informants. She is currently said to be a faith healer in Vermont!

Legal News

Amount of Sawyer verdict upheld

The judge who presided over the Sawyer case has upheld the amount of $5.08 million awarded by the jury to the parents, the Sawyers. Judges often reduce large jury awards. At the start of the trial the judge had given it as his opinion to the lawyers that the highest likely verdict would be for $1 million, if the case were won. This award was the second highest ever awarded by a jury in a psychotherapy malpractice case.

"Rebirthing" therapists get 16 years

In a widely reported case, also noted elsewhere in this issue, two Colorado therapists were sentenced to 16 years in prison each. They had conducted the so called "rebirthing" therapy on 10 year old Candace Newmaker because she had resisted forming a loving relationship with her adoptive mother. In this absolutely bogus therapy the child was smothered in a blanket, meant to simulate the womb, and taunted by the therapists to struggle free. At one point one of the therapists is heard to say on the videotape, which was made of the procedure, "You want to die, O.K., then die. Go ahead die right now." The girl screamed often for 40 minutes that she was having trouble breathing. Then she grew silent. After 30 minutes of silence she was unwrapped and emerged unconscious. She died the next day. Even before the therapists’ trial ended the Colorado legislature had passed a law (called Candace’s law) making "rebirthing" therapy illegal in the state.

Recovered memory therapy is an equally bogus therapy, as Carol Tavris points out on p. 5. We know that it has resulted in numbers of suicides, and untold numbers of devastated lives. It too ought to be declared illegal everywhere. And because new, harmful, bogus therapies are constantly emerging, no therapies ought to be tolerated that have not been scientifically shown to be safe and effective, as our movement has constantly urged. When will quality control come to the therapy field?

Information on Colorado case from The New York Times, June 19, 2001

Professional regulation in

Illinois criticized

A Chicago based watchdog group, the Coalition for Consumer Rights, has issued a stinging criticism of the work of the Illinois Department of Professional Regulation in overseeing physicians. Nancy Cowles, executive director of the group, is quoted as saying: "They are not doing their job. They are opposing reforms to protect consumers, and the injured patients end up paying the price." (Chicago Tribune, March 9, 2001, Sec. 2, p. 3). Only two physicians out of 37,000 licensed in Illinois had their licenses revoked in the last two years, according to the group. This is the department’s lowest level of disciplinary action in the last eight years. The agency prefers reprimands and probation as disciplinary tools, leaving dangerous doctors in contact with patients. The agency’s website only shows whether a physician has ever been disciplined by the agency and why. The Coalition is pushing for more information to be displayed, such as malpractice payments, restrictions of hospital privileges and criminal backgrounds. The same department, as the one under attack here, handles disciplinary actions against therapists who are not physicians, although different boards make the final decision for each specialty. It is very unlikely that the department is more zealous in its disciplining of non-physician therapists.

The Milwaukee conference hears Bill Smoler

For the first time ever, our members gathered for a conference in Wisconsin. On April 22nd forty-six people met in the pavilion of Milwaukee’s Falk Park and everybody seems to have found the meeting very beneficial and stimulating. Our featured speaker, attorney Bill Smoler of Madison, Wisconsin was introduced by Kate Spanuello. She praised him for immersing himself deeply in the literature about the FMS problem and then going on to win three landmark cases (Cool, Hess and Sawyer.) Kate praised him for being incredibly hard working and said that "his honesty, integrity, caring and passion for the FMS problem" were beyond compare. In his opening remarks Smoler said that he was "proud and glad to work on social causes like FMS."

Bill Smoler commented on the issue of third party lawsuits, suits that involve the issue of the confidentiality of medical records. In Wisconsin, parents control their children’s records until age fourteen. After that age the minor has control of his own record. Confidentiality is not absolute.
There are laws on the books which breach this right under certain circumstances. Also a case called Tarasoff (California) and one called Schuster (Wisconsin) allowed confidentiality to be waived because of the dangerousness of the patient.

Smoler went on to discuss the Sawyer case which he has just won with a five million dollar jury award for the Sawyers. This case involved an unlicensed therapist, Celia Lausted, who "was the most embarrassing witness I have ever dealt with," Smoler said. She lied persistently according to Smoler. The attorney discovered Celia Lausted’s master’s thesis (she was a home economics teacher with a masters degree in guidance counseling) and was able to convince the jury that the case it described was that of Sawyers’ daughter. Smoler used the thesis to demonstrate that the therapist was suggesting much of what her patient ultimately came to believe, despite defense claims to the contrary. He showed the jury the scientific hocus pocus involved in the tests Celia Lausted gave her patient which were supposed to prove that she was a multiple with a hundred personalities. Neither in this case nor in the other two FMS cases that Smoler has tried was the jury in any doubt about the verdict, he said.

Joyce Scary, President of G.R.O.W. (Grandparents Rights of Wisconsin), talked about grandparents rights in Wisconsin. "The best interests of the child" is supposed to be the key legal criterion determining whether the grandparents have visitation rights with their grandchildren, if the parents object. If there is a guardian at litem, he or she is supposed to be guided by this principle and allow visitation rights, regardless of the parents’ wishes, if the child has formed certain bonds with the grandparents and under certain other conditions. If the child is at least twelve years the child is entitled to his or her own lawyer. There is some pro bono work done by lawyers in this field. De Paul Law School has a program, for instance. Joyce stressed that the grandparents should keep a log of all contacts attempted.

The conference concluded with spirited round table discussions and a box supper.

Reflections on two stories

In the last few days, two stories have appeared in the news media, that seemingly have no relation. Yet as I stopped to think about each, I find a definite relationship of one to the other.

One news story is about the AMA objecting to drug company advertisements where all the virtues of a medication are trumpeted. The drug company also lists side effects and precautions in use and prescribing of the medication. What the AMA is objecting to, is the failure to list alternative medication or therapy that is valid for the same application as the trumpeted medication. The other news story is the conviction and sentencing of two therapists in Colorado for the death of a 10 year old girl, during the application of an unproven theory called, "rebirthing". Both therapists received a jail sentence of 16 years. There is also a potential of wrongful death law suit, if the therapist have any assets or insurance.

Initially these stories seem totally unrelated. But are they? What the AMA is requesting of the pharmaceutical manufacturers, is, "informed consent". They say its O.K. to tell the benefits and problems with the use of a given medication, but like the requirements of informed consent, alternative medication and/or therapies that treat the same diagnosis should be part of the advertisement. Do you believe the therapists administering "rebirthing" obtained true informed consent? I'm sure they told the parent what they intended to do and to accomplish. What they didn't tell the parent is alternative methods of treating the problem, listing the pros and cons of each alternative method. In both cases, the provider failed to inform of alternative methods of treating the diagnosis.

I really wonder if many truly understand the full meaning of "informed consent."

Something to think about.


How to choose the right therapy

by Carol Tavris

Another invalidated, pop-psych therapy claims a life. Last year, 10 year-old Candace Newmaker died during a session of "rebirthing" therapy in Colorado… (For details, see "Legal news", p. 2)

Connell Watkins, an unlicensed social worker who operated the counseling center, and three of her employees were charged with reckless child abuse resulting in death. The child’s mother, Jean Newmaker, was charged with negligent child abuse

Were the techniques used by these therapists standard practice in psychotherapy? How is a lay person like Jean Newmaker…supposed to know the difference between good therapy and bad?

First testimonials are no guideline. No matter what kind of therapy is involved, clients are motivated to tell you it worked….

Yet many new therapies are promoted not by evidence of their effectiveness – as measured against control groups or other approaches—but by the claims of a charismatic leader and the praises of happy clients. The method is then endorsed by enthusiastic practitioners who have been "certified" in the method, usually by attending a weekend workshop promoted by the therapy’s founder. Most of these therapies are packaged and promoted with no scientific support at all. They are just someone’s idea of what sounds good, wrapped up in fancy psychobabble.

The public is largely unaware of the enormous schism that exists between the training of most psychotherapists today and that of psychological scientists. There is no agency or organization to protect people from ignorant or unscrupulous therapists. Anyone can call himself or herself a "psychotherapist" and set up any kind of program as "therapy."…Thousands of people get credentials as "experts" in various techniques and therapies –doing hypnosis or hypnotherapy, diagnosing child sexual abuse, doing addiction or "rage reduction" counseling – without learning the methods of science or even the basic research that has been done on these subjects.

For example, all the basic assumptions of rebirthing therapy – that people can recover from trauma, insecure attachment or other psychological problems by reliving their births – are unsupported by the vast empirical research on infancy, attachment, memory and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Many well-tested therapies are available for treating psychological problems. Decades of controlled studies have found that behavior therapy or cognitive-behavior therapy are treatments of choice for a wide array of problems… Instead of encouraging people to simply ventilate their emotions, blame their childhood…these approaches teach people how to change their own self-defeating belief and modify the behavior that is making them miserable….

Do behavioral or family therapies help everyone? Of course not. But they do no harm, whereas invalidated psychotherapies and scientifically illiterate "experts" are causing enormous harm and sometimes death. The only way to halt these pernicious fads has been through malpractice suits, which is how the epidemics of "recovered memory therapy" and "multiple personality disorder" finally have been slowed….

Carol Tavris is a well known social


(Excerpted from The Ohio Association of Responsible Mental Health Practices newsletter. Article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times, February 8, 2001)

Judge criticizes Illinois DCFS child abuse investigations

In April a federal judge ordered the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to revamp how it investigates allegations of child abuse and neglect. He said the system is unconstitutional and has too often led to false accusations of wrongdoing against child caretakers. DCFS officials called the decision narrow and said it would have no immediate effect on investigations of child abuse and neglect.

Evidence showed that three fourths of the child-care employees who had been accused by DCFS of abuse or neglect and appealed those findings were ultimately exonerated, though sometimes not until years later. "Something is seriously and obviously flawed in a system" in which so many cases are reversed on review, the judge Rebecca Pallmeyer said.

Diane L. Redleaf, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the decision could have national ramifications because virtually every state investigates child abuse and neglect in a similar fashion.. She said that in many instances DCFS investigators decided guilt or innocence on their first visits with the accused. She said officials err on the side of children, but "You have to be accurate."

In her decision, Pallmeyer said she was most troubled by the low standard of proof required for DCFS investigator to find abuse or neglect. She said investigators can be one-sided and superficial in their efforts and disregard evidence in favor of the accused. But the consequences for the accused child-care workers was harsh. According to evidence in the case, thousands lost their jobs over the years and were essentially blacklisted from further work in child care.

DCFS officials said the ruling was narrow, affecting only child-care employees. But Redleaf said the system Pallmeyer found to be unconstitutional also applied to parents accused of abuse or neglect.

(Information from The Chicago Tribune April 3, 2001)

Mental Health Parity Bill

The Mental Health Parity Bill (SB1341) has now passed both the Illinois Senate and House. It now is awaiting Governor Ryan’s signature. Our Society originally opposed this bill because it covered unspecified mental illnesses in addition to the specified major mental illnesses. . The final version limited coverage to nine major mental illnesses. Our Society now favors the bill and earlier this month we sent a letter to our members urging support. (See our March 2001 newsletter for more information.)

Newsletter to be e-mailed

We plan to e-mail as well as mail our newsletter to you in the future, if you have e-mail. If you wish us to do that, make sure that we have your e-mail address. In this way, you will get your newsletter faster.

Past issues of newsletter on web site

Tom R. has volunteered to gradually place past issues of our newsletter, going back to 1994, on our web site. Many thanks Tom!

Therapists still using "Courage to Heal"

On a recent visit to a mental health facility funded by the board of which I am a member, we were given a tour of the therapy offices of an agency which is funded by us. Since it is very difficult to assess the activities of a given agency because we cannot attend their actual therapy sessions, I have found a significant clue that things might be awry is to check their bookshelves to see if they contain such books as "The Courage to Heal." Much to my dismay, I found this agency not only still had the book (despite the fact that I had given the director a copy of Mark Pendergrast’s book "Victims of Memory") but when I pointed it out to the director, her comment was "I knew you were coming. I should have put it away." She had previously told me that she had received the book I had given her and told me she would read it. Obviously she had not. Not only was "Courage to Heal" present but it was on top of her bookcase in clear view.

I responded to her flippant answer by saying, "You should have thrown it away. You know how devastating this has been to falsely accused families." She assured me that they don't really use the book in their therapy but that some of their therapists do refer to it. She was definite that they do not use recovered memory therapy although she proudly told me that she has been treating a patient for a few years who has dissociative identity disorder and that she did try to get the patient to go back into his past to connect with his present.

Why would this not be recovered memory therapy? Her "denial" reminds me of a joke I heard long ago about a guy finding a large smelly fecal deposit from an animal on the street. He looked at it, smelled it, tasted, it and then threw it down saying, "Good thing I didn't step in it."
Alas, the evil demons still lurk in the therapist's office. They're just calling it different names and using DENIAL to their own benefit. Eileen Schmidt

President's Corner

The Spring mini-conference in Wisconsin was a great success. 46 members attended. Bill Smoler, the Sawyers’ attorney, was a dynamic and informative speaker. As always, the question and answer session stimulated many thought-provoking queries and new areas of thought on false memory issues and the devastating effects on families. Joyce Stary and Lynn Kenworthy from the Wisconsin organization, Grandparents Rights of Wisconsin (G.R.O.W.), provided new resources and a different focus on the heartache of dealing with the absent children and grandchildren in our lives. There are support groups in Illinois called Grandparents Raising Grandchildren. The Mental Health Parity Amendment was recently sent to the Illinois governor for his signature. The bill addresses nine serious mental illnesses. It indirectly includes an informed consent requirement. As you can see by the recent news, the issues of false memory syndrome and its effects on families are still active. Legal and legislative bodies are responding to the information provided by the FMSF and the IWFMSS. Our work is not yet done!

As you read above, we have decided to hold our fall conference in Bloomington, IL on October 13, 2001. Our keynote speaker will be Ken Merlino from the law firm of Power, Rogers & Smith. Karen Johnson from St. Louis, MO will talk about third party lawsuits. Please join us for an exciting and informative day, and stay for socializing and a box-supper. We look forward to seeing friends and new faces from Illinois and surrounding states.
Mary Shanley