Psychologist Disciplined for Action Against Mother
A California Court of Appeals has affirmed a Trial Court that denied a writ petition of a psychologist who was disciplined by the Board of Psychology for unprofessional conduct and dishonesty involving his conduct as a special master in a contested custody action and his testimony in a Florida custody action. In the case of Rand v. Board of Psychology, Mother and Father were unable to resolve their ongoing conflict regarding visitation. Therefore, they agreed to the appointment of a psychologist as a special master to help resolve their conflict. Their agreement stated that in consideration of the psychologist’s “expertise . . . as a court-appointed expert and licensed mental health professional,” the appointed special master would make decisions regarding the dates, times, and logistics of visitation, schedule holiday and vacation visitation, determine degree of participation by relatives, manage health care considerations, and set up communication between the kids and the other parent during non-custodial times. The agreement prohibited the special master from making orders affecting Trial Court’s jurisdiction regarding custody and visitation and from altering and/or awarding legal or physical custody.
After the initial appointment ended for unspecified reasons, Trial Court appointed another psychologist to act as special master. Not long after his appointment, Psychologist “became frustrated” with Mother, claimed that she was “trying to pull one over on him,” and “essentially called her a liar.” Psychologist told Mother that “she would have to corroborate everything to him,” because he didn’t trust her. Psychologist followed up by sending Mother an email telling her that “he could not work with dishonesty” and falsely accusing her of perjury. Mother shot back a letter, asking Psychologist to resign and listing the grievances on which she based that request.
Psychologist then met with Mother’s attorney, agreeing to resign, but only if Mother would withdraw her grievance against him. Psychologist warned that if Mother did not do so, he would give her an unfavorable report and that “she should think twice before making him defend himself.” If Mother withdrew her grievance, Psychologist said, he would resign “for the best interest of the children” without specifying his reasons. Mother countered that she would withdraw her grievance on condition that she could reinstate it if Psychologist “made any future disclosures about her to Father or the court.” When Mother’s attorney conveyed that condition to Psychologist, Psychologist termed it unreasonable and declined to resign.
Mother then retained psychologist/attorney to handle the grievance issue and negotiate Psychologist’s resignation. Mother’s new attorney gave Psychologist notice of the association of attorney and obtained approval from Father’s attorney to contact Psychologist. Psychologist refused to participate in a conference call with Mother’s attorney and said he would speak only to Mother’s first attorney and Father’s attorney. Mother’s attorney later sent Psychologist a letter outlining Psychologist’s deficiencies as a special master, telling him that Mother had no wish to ruin his career, and lamenting that the focus had shifted from resolving parental conflicts to resolving conflicts between Mother and Psychologist.
On June 1, 2004, and June 9, 2004, Psychologist participated in a conference call with Father and his attorney, but still refused to communicate with Mother’s attorney and threatened to get a restraining order to preclude further communications from Mother’s attorney to him.
In August 2004, Mother’s new attorney replaced her first attorney as Mother’s attorney for all purposes, but Psychologist continued to refuse to speak to him. For several years, Psychologist spoke with Father and his attorney, but not with Mother’s attorney. Psychologist had lunch with Father, but refused to speak to Mother, communicating with her by email only. When Mother failed to pay him her share of his fees, Psychologist retained a New Hampshire attorney, who had represented Father in previous custody action in that state, to place a lien on Mother’s New Hampshire separate property asset.
Meanwhile, in another custody case in Florida Trial Court, the child’s psychologist recommended that the child participate in parental alienation program developed by Psychologist, who was known to the Florida psychologist as an expert on parental alienation syndrome. During a hearing, Florida Trial Court phoned Psychologist, placed Psychologist under oath, and questioned Psychologist regarding the details of his program and its methods. After Psychologist explained how the program was developed and how it worked, Florida Trial Court asked Psychologist to give his opinion regarding the Florida child’s need for an intervention and participation in Psychologist’s program. Although Psychologist had not interviewed the child, Psychologist opined that the child was “severely alienated,” that Trial Court should order an immediate custody change, and the child should participate in his program. Psychologist made no mention of his reliance on the reports from other professionals or of the effect that reliance would have on his opinion.
The Board of Psychology then disciplined Psychologist for unprofessional conduct in Mother and Father’s case and the Florida case, violation of laws governing psychology practice, and dishonesty, finding that his “conduct was an extreme departure from the standard of practice of a psychologist,” and that his attempts to minimize his involvement in the Florida case amounted to dishonesty. The Board revoked Psychologist’s license, but stayed the revocation for five years, subject to various terms and conditions, oversight regarding practice and billing monitor, and completion of courses in forensic psychology and ethics.
Psychologist petitioned Trial Court for writ of administrative mandamus, challenging the Board’s jurisdiction to discipline him for actions taken as a special master, its deprivation of his due process rights, and the sufficiency of the evidence. Trial Court denied Psychologist’s petition, finding that Psychologist was engaging in the practice of psychology while acting as special master, that his conduct was unprofessional, grossly negligent, and below applicable standard for psychologists, and that Psychologist failed to show that the Board had disciplined him for his decisions as special master and not for his unprofessional conduct toward Mother and Father. With regard to the Florida case, Trial Court found sufficient evidence that Psychologist’s conduct was unprofessional, grossly negligent, and dishonest.
Psychologist appealed, but a California Court of Appeals has affirmed Trial Court’s decisions. The Appellate Court finds that (1) the Board had jurisdiction to discipline Psychologist for actions taken as special master that are contrary to standards of practice for psychologists; (2) Psychologist’s duties as special master were based on his expertise and reputation as a psychologist and fell within the definition of practice of psychology; (3) Psychologist was not denied due process in disciplinary proceeding; and (4) evidence of Psychologist’s disparate treatment of Mother, refusal to communicate with her attorney, ramping up of conflict (instead of alleviating it), use of Father’s attorney to collect debt from Mother, failure to follow ethical guidelines regarding testimony in Florida case, appearance of bias in favor of Father and against Mother, is sufficient to support the Board’s findings regarding discipline.