As readers know, I have been especially hard on the Children's Advocacy Center of the LMJC, as well as the Greenhouse in Dalton. Going through the particulars of the lawsuit Tonya Craft filed in federal court in Rome yesterday, I believe that legal action against these organizations is long overdue. For many years, the CAC and its gaggle of agenda-driven, poorly-trained, and utterly arrogant staff has conspired with dirty cops and dishonest prosecutors to destroy the lives of innocent people.
I pull no punches when it comes to the CAC and the Greenhouse, none, and I firmly believe that justice really will not be served until a number of their staffers are marched into prison to serve the terms that were imposed on the innocent people that they framed. Furthermore, I will say that the agencies in question have no defense at all, and as more and more information come out about how the CAC and Greenhouse staffers were able to get their "disclosures," it will become apparent just how fraudulent their practices really were in their frenzy to "get" Ms. Craft.
The first and most important item is this: What should be the expectations that we have of "interviewers" whose testimony can put someone away in prison for life? Second, what kind of interviewing techniques should they use when questioning children? Third, what kinds of safeguards should be in place to help ensure that people are not wrongfully accused? These are serious questions that psychologists and others involved with children around the country have been asking; the exception seems to be in North Georgia, where SANE Sharon Anderson is using obsolete standards to come up with "highly suspicious" conclusions about sexual abuse exam results, and her contemporaries are even farther behind the curve than she is.
More than 20 years ago, dozens of people who worked with children were falsely accused of child molestation, and some cases were especially egregious in how they were prosecuted. Names like McMartin, Bakersfield, Fells Acre, Little Rascals, and Wenatchee became synonymous with wrongful convictions, prosecutorial abuse, and the perils of agenda-driven criminal law fueled by the Mondale Act of 1974.
Although the abuse claims occurred in different places and involved different people, there were common threads running through the cases. The way that children were interviewed when seen in hindsight was a train wreck waiting to happen. For example, when Janet Reno was pursuing these kinds of cases when she was a prosecutor in Miami, she used a "therapist" couple, Joseph and Laurie Braga, who claimed to be "experts."
The Bragas were the ultimate prosecutorial nightmare, for they would tell jurors that "if a child says 'no,' the child really means 'yes'." Of course, if a child said "yes," that also meant "yes." Therefore, according to Reno and the Bragas, once there was an accusation, the only satisfactory conclusion was that the person in the dock HAD to be a child molester, and they would badger children and repeat questions until the child gave Reno and the Bragas what they wanted to hear. Now, it never occurred to judges in South Florida then that the Bragas were full of nonsense and outright lies; oh, no, they were protecting children!
As many of the hysteria-fueled convictions were overturned, clinical psychologists and others involved in the interviewing of children took a hard look at how interviewers could get children to make what would prove to be outlandish claims about abuse, claims that defied logic, time, space, and simply did not have the accompanying physical evidence that such acts would have left behind.
(In fact, many jurors who heard such nonsense assumed that since the stories were so outlandish, it was "proof that something happened," which was what prosecutors wanted them to believe. If such tactics seem to be outrageous, it is because they were borrowed from the propaganda exercises used by Joseph Goebbels, Adolph Hitler's main propagandist.)
Over time, new standards were developed, and two of the most important people in developing standards of interviewing were Dr. William Bernet and Dr. Nancy Aldridge. If their names are familiar to readers, it is because both of them testified for Tonya Craft.
The fact that the trial saw the interviewing techniques carried out by staff from the Greenhouse and the LMJC CAC being contrasted (unfavorably) with the standards that professionals set in the aftermath of the earlier wave of hysteria should have set off alarms. As Ms. Craft's trial went on, testimony showed that the CAC and Greenhouse interviewers were acting as though they were in a time warp, and it was the 1980s and McMartin all over again.
To make matters even worse, not only did the North Georgia "interviewers" lack proper training and credentials, they seemed to revel in their ignorance. In most courts, a high-school graduate like Thorne trying to claim that she knew more about interviewing children for signs of sex abuse than Dr. Aldridge would be considered a joke that no prosecutor perpetrate on a judge and jury.
In "judge" Brian House's court, however, Thorne was the "expert" (despite the fact that she failed to document or record what supposedly was the most important "disclosure" of the whole investigation) and Dr. Aldridge not only was considered "suspect," but also was accused of committing perjury, and prosecutors labeled her a "liar" and a "whore of the court."
While on the stand, the CAC and Greenhouse interviewers demonstrated a total lack of any professional standards. They rolled their eyes, shrugged their shoulders, gave sarcastic answers, and bragged about their lack of knowledge of current academic and professional literature about their chosen line of work. Their "I don't remember," and "I don't recall" answers contrasted with the clear answers, professional demeanor, and outright knowledge that the defense "experts" demonstrated while on the stand. Certainly the jurors noticed as well.
The problems with the CAC are not limited to the interviewing techniques used by its staffers, as bad as they are. Another serious issue is the professionally incestuous nature of its board and local law enforcement. For example, Buzz Franklin sits on the board of the CAC and heads the organization's finance committee and his "victims' advocate," Vickie Scoggins, also sits on the board.
One of my good friends and researchers spoke to an ADA from another state as well as members of child advocacy groups elsewhere and to a person, they said that this interrelatedness of the prosecutorial players is a huge conflict of interest. Furthermore, the very nature of this interconnectedness casts doubt on other cases in which the testimony from CAC staffers helped put someone in prison.
(The Brad Wade situation comes to mind here, and in Thursday morning's post, I will write my first of what should be many pieces on what I believe is an egregious wrongful conviction. Stacy Long was the CAC "therapist" in that case, and one only can hope that someday this woman will meet the bar of justice, for it is an obscenity that Mr. Wade is incarcerated and Long is free.)
There is something else to consider: this will be the first time that an outside court really will scrutinize the CAC, its standards, its practices, and its incestuous board relationships. For the most part, CAC staffers testify in friendly situations, in which LMJC judges coddle them, prosecutors such as Chris Arnt and Len Gregor pretend as though these "witnesses" are telling the truth, and local defense attorneys either are too cowed from being bullied by the ADAs from Franklin's office or they simply are not familiar with how interviews with children are supposed to be done.
The Tonya Craft trial was the first one to my knowledge in which CAC staffers were forced to justify their interviewing techniques, and it was clear they had no idea on how to respond professionally to a real cross-examination. I can assure the readers that the atmosphere that the CAC and Greenhouse staffers will face in a federal courtroom will not be the lovefest that judges like Brian House, Kristina Cook Graham, and Ralph Van Pelt have provided for them.
Furthermore, no one in federal court is going to be able to get away with calling experts like Dr. Nancy Aldridge and Dr. William Bernet "whores, liars," and other epithets. In short, these CAC staff interviewers are about to enter a legal world that they had no idea even existed, a place where Laurie Evans' arrogance and utter foolishness are not going to be tolerated, and where eye-rolling, shoulder shrugging, sarcastic answers, and giggling will be sanctioned immediately by a judge.
To put it another way, the federal court is not going to accept Thorne's claim that while she might not have a college degree or any real credentials that allow her to do such work, nonetheless she IS qualified because she once spent the night in a Holiday Inn Express.