Judge Berman's colossally unethical psychology practice

On July 13, U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman ordered further psychological counseling of indefinite term for best-selling conservative author and filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza.  Mr. D'Souza had earlier pleaded guilty to violating federal campaign finance laws by bundling two $10,000 donations into one.  In the world of campaign financing irregularities, this offense was sub-small potatoes.  It was more like teenie tater-tots.

But Mr. D'Souza was sentenced to eight months of work release incarceration and five years of community service, fines, and counseling of indeterminate duration.  This is a much more punitive sentence than in a comparable case of bundling on behalf of Hillary Clinton (Sant Sing Chatwal, NY Times: "Clinton Backer Pleads Guilty in Straw Donor Scheme"; NY Post: "Vikram's Big Fat Sikh Wedding").

At the 7/13 hearing, Judge Berman justified more counseling with a new counselor with the wording of a court-appointed psychological revaluation.  The judge did not note a recognized mental diagnosis, but repeated the evaluator's reference to Mr. D'Souza as "arrogant" and "intolerant."  These words do not appear in the diagnostic manual because they are not clinical terms, but personal insults.  Judge Berman's treatment plan contradicted the findings of two court-approved licensed professionals who concluded that Mr. D'Souza does not have a mental disorder, does not require medication, and is "psychologically normal and well-adjusted."

Judge Berman based his order of more therapy in stating, "That Mr. D'Souza committed this crime involves a colossal failure of insight and introspection."  More treatment was needed – the last year of therapy did not produce an insight regurgitation satisfying to Judge Berman.  The judge explained that he had been a psychology major, and he "only wanted to be helpful."

Judge Berman's rulings are governed by codified ethical standards imposed on judges.  Psychologists are also required to follow rigorous ethical standards in their evaluations and recommendations.  But as a pretend psychologist, Judge Berman can psychobabble and congratulate himself on his compassion, and his captive clients have nowhere to turn.

There are five general ethical principles governing services such as psychological evaluation and counseling recommendations.  Judge Berman appears to have violated every one of these principles.  As we go through his ethical lapses, it is important to remember that when the individual being evaluated is in any sense involuntary, or not free to terminate and choose another provider, the ethical burden is much heavier still.

Principle A: Beneficence and Non-Maleficence Psychologists "are alert to and guard against ... political factors that might lead to misuse of their influence."  As a Democrat psychoanalyzing a famous Republican, Judge Berman appears to be oblivious to this ethical conflict.

Principle B: Fidelity and Responsibility "Psychologists clarify their roles and responsibilities."  Judge Berman noted he was a psychology major (a good thirty years ago, by the look of him).  He wanted those assembled before him to understand what a good guy he is: "I'm sensitive to mental health issues in the criminal cases I hear, and I do not want to end psychological counseling at this time in Mr. D'Souza's case."  People who are actually qualified to make such recommendations do not tend to tell clients they took psychology courses.  Being a pretend psychologist lets the judge feel helpful, but simultaneously being judge and treatment planner is an unethical dual role.

Principle C: Integrity Regarding the assessment that therapy needed to continue, Mr. D'Souza's attorney asked Judge Berman, "Applying your argument to white-collar crimes, why wouldn't all white-collar criminals need psychological counseling?"  Judge Berman is reported to have said, "85% of all criminal defendants who appear before me argue they don't need psychological counseling."  As a make-believe psychologist, Judge Berman can use the orificial-extraction method of multivariate analysis.  If he were a real-life psychologist, he would have to go to the bother of citing, or doing, research to use figures like 85% say blah-blah-blah.  But stats always sound good, and the judge is qualified, albeit only in his own mind.

Principle D: Justice Psychologists "take precautions to ensure that their potential biases, the boundaries of their competence and the limitations of their expertise do not lead to or condone unjust practices."  'Nuff said.

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