Anatomy of a Bogus Expert Witness Resume
By Donald A. Eisner, Ph.D., J.D.
In mid-November 2010, an article appeared in the New York newspaper The Saratogian with the title “Former county courts psychologist charged with falsifying credentials arraigned,” about Steven B. Feldman, who worked in the family court and public defender’s office though he was neither licensed nor qualified to do so. His fraud was exposed by a client who had researched his credentials and discovered he had “graduated” from a well-known diploma mill.
This scenario, of the less-than- or not-at-all-qualified person lying his way into a position of power and influence in a court or other county mental health section, is not at all unusual, as you will see in the following article.
Citizens Commission on Human Rights is publishing this article to assist you to identify and expose false experts, such as custody evaluators on your own case or opposing counsel’s experts.
Author Don Eisner is both a licensed attorney and psychologist in practice in southern California. He has a Ph.D. from West Virginia University and a post-doctorate in gerontology studies from the University of Southern California. He received his law degree from the University of West Los Angeles and has been licensed since 1988. Mr. Eisner has represented clients in numerous cases against psychotherapist, including cases involving the implanting of false memories, abuse of transference, improper/dual relationships and involuntary hospitalization and has testified in State and Federal court on mental health issues. He is the author of The Death of Psychotherapy: From Freud to Alien Abductions as well as more than 20 professional articles covering various forensic issues.
(Note: the following article makes reference to a “hypothetical resume,” which the author prepared to illustrate his points. It can be seen here.)
Expert witnesses are subject to a complete examination of their educational and professional background. An opposing attorney may zoom in on the applicant's credentials in an attempt to impeach the witness. Fabrication or embellishment of a resumé can lead to significant problems for an expert witness.[i]
This paper offers a window into the detection of a bogus and/or falsified resumé by a purported expert witness. A hypothetical resume will be offered (see bottom of article), followed by several cross-examination questions. The hypothetical resume contains a number of red flags, which will then be put under a laser beam for inspection.
There are a number of experts who have embellished and completely falsified their resumés and academic backgrounds across a variety of fields. There are so many, that this presentation can only offer a very small sample of individuals who have presented fake academic experience and credentials. In the case of a New York marriage and family therapist,[ii] he had a Masters in the mental health field. He also had a contract with the local county family court, which involved evaluation of parents and children who were involved in custody cases. However, the therapist claimed to be a doctor of psychology. The problem, according to this article, is that his doctorate was from a questionable, unaccredited school in Wyoming. The therapist was arrested and charged with four first-degree felony counts, which include falsifying business records, offering false instrument for filing, grand larceny and scheming to defraud. Further, it was alleged that this therapist graduated from Hamilton University, which is described as a “diploma mill” where one can simply purchase an advanced degree.[iii]
Similarly, another social worker had a Masters degree in social work, but claimed to have a Doctorate in psychology from the “University of California.”[iv] However, the University of California never deferred this degree on the witness. An Alaska court accepted him as an expert witness and he was able to testify and make recommendations to a judge in family court matters.
Recently, a social worker has come under scrutiny for exaggerating her credentials.[v] Janelle Burrill is a California licensed clinical social worker, who has a Ph.D. and J.D. listed on her resumé. Additionally, at the top of the resumé it says “Board Certified Diplomate (BCD).” However, the American Board of Examiners in Clinical Social Work revoked her BCD on March 17, 2010 for failure to report an ethics complaint that was filed with the California Board of Behavior Examiners.[vi]
There are cases that go back many decades. One example, which occurred in the late 1970s, involved Dr. Milton V. Kline, a well-known individual in the area of hypnosis who, it tuned out, did not have a Doctorate in psychology, but rather in Education.[vii]
A case in San Diego, California alleges that psychologist Stephen Doyne falsified and embellished his resumé.[viii] It was contended that there were several areas of possible fabrication. Doyne evaluated a psychiatrist named Dr. Emad Tadros. However, Dr. Tadros felt that the psychologist's work was unprofessional and researched his credentials. Dr. Tadros was under the impression that Dr. Doyne's credentials were fake. The allegations as to falsity are as follows: It was contended that the Diplomate from the American College of Forensic Examiners is nothing more than a sham in that it sells diplomas. It has been contended that even a cat could obtain a Diplomate from the American College of Forensic Examiners. On Dr. Doyne's resumé, it also is claimed that he was an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego law school. The records could not be found. It is also claimed that Dr. Doyne was a professor at the University of California, San Diego. However, a letter from UCSD that was filed in court says that after extensive research they could not find anyone with his name who was directly employed at the University of California, San Diego. Lastly, it has been alleged that Dr. Doyne claims to be a Diplomate of the American College of Forensic Psychologists. However, there is no such college. Furthermore, there is no Diplomate associated with the American Board of Forensic Psychology.[ix]
There may be a few mini “red flags” on examining the title of the applicant's resumé. Perhaps the most significant one is that there is no licensure or even a number listed. The reason for this may be that it could lead to an unfortunate result, should anyone bother to research the expert’s license. A few other potential oddities are that an address given does not seem to match with the zip code and/or correlate with the phone number. Also, what may or may not be a big deal is that the expert does not provide a middle initial in their name.
Looking at the clinical experience portion of the resumé, it appears to be a little bit haphazard in terms of the chronology. For example, he lists “Private Practice” from 2002 to the present, but this period is also covered with employment at another facility that started a year earlier. It is unclear how this particular witness was working at two or more places at the same time.
Somewhat astoundingly, he lists expert witness testimony in a number of areas. As we will see a little bit later, this is quite a stretch, based on his alleged graduate and perhaps post-graduate training.
As can be seen from the resumé, the expert witness does not even bother to list where he got his alleged JD degree from. Looking at his bachelor's degree, it says “Cornell.”
Question: Did you attend Cornell?
Question: Where is it located?
Answer: Back east.
(Comment: Technically that is correct. Cornell University is east of Los Angeles.)
Question: Whereabouts back east?
Answer: I don't recall at the moment.
(Comment: This is where a first very serious red flag occurs. Anybody that attended Cornell University in Ithaca, New York is not going to forget where it is located. Apparently the witness is trying to be evasive. Cornell College is in Iowa. This witness would apparently be trying to pass off Cornell College for Cornell University. Is this an isolated mistake at this point? Probably not.)
Question: I see you attended Brown College and obtained a Masters. Is that correct?
Question: Where is that located?
Answer: Back east.
(Comment: Again, the witness is being evasive. Brown College is not Brown University. Brown College is in Minnesota. Furthermore, it does not have a psychology curriculum.)
Question: What did you study there?
Answer: Forensic psychology.
(Comment: It turns out there is a criminal justice program but it is not, of course, the same as forensic psychology. At this point, it appears that the witness is digging himself into deep trouble.)
Question: Dr. Smith, I see you attended Hamilton University. Is that correct?
Question: What was your dissertation topic?
Answer: It was on the effectiveness of social interaction in autism.
Question: Is Hamilton University accredited?
By a simple Google search, one can see that Hamilton University has been described as a bogus school.[x] Hamilton University no longer exists. However, Hamilton College, which is a legitimate, accredited college, does exist. Thus, one has to be careful not to confuse these two colleges. (What is interesting here is the reversal: It is the college that is the legitimate site and the university which is considered to be bogus, which is the opposite of Brown College vs. Brown University.)
A school can state that it is accredited, but unless it is nationally recognized by the United States government or a state government, serious questions need to be raised about the legitimacy of the particular school. In California there are schools, for example, that offer graduate degrees that have absolutely no state approval whatsoever.
Certifications and Licensures
The expert witness claims he is a licensed psychologist in California. However, what is interesting is that there is no license number given on the resumé.
Question: Dr. Smith, are you currently licensed in California?
Question: Do you have your pocket ID with you at the moment?
Answer: No. However, you can certainly obtain it right off the Board of Psychology website.
At this point, the attorney might be tempted to take a minute or two intermission and obtain the relevant information off the Board of Psychology website. However, if the expert witness is actively falsifying his previous credentials, there would be little reason to believe that the licensure is not also being falsified. However, it would be interesting to match up the actual license number and name of the individual that is found on the Board’s website.
For example, if the PSY (California designation for a psychologist’s license) number is fairly low and Dr. Smith is fairly young, there would be an obvious discrepancy. In other words, Dr. Smith would be unlikely to be licensed, say in 1980, when he claims he received his Ph.D. in 1999. Also, there could be a minor, but obviously inconsistent difference in the applicant's middle name. (Recall above that he left his middle name off of his resumé.)
Just using somebody else's ID and/or license number, however obtained, it is likely that Dr. Smith could obtain some employment since it is unlikely that employers are going to do an intense evaluation of someone who purports to be a psychologist and presumably was vetted by the Board of Psychology.
The expert’s resumé here may be a listing of various certifications, diplomates and so on. As noted in the example above, it is imperative to verify whether there is any assessment of the individual's qualifications before obtaining certification. It is also imperative to ascertain that the particular board or affiliation actually exists.
In most if not all states, an individual with Master’s degree may be eligible sit for licensure as a marriage and family therapist (MFT), licensed professional clinical counselor (LPCC) or licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). Obtaining a doctorate in psychology does not mean that someone is licensed as a psychologist. The individual would need addition hours of supervision and training and would have to pass the state licensing exam. Obviously a juris doctorate (JD) does not mean one is an attorney. The individual needs to pass the bar examination in order to become a licensed attorney. In the case of an individual who is not licensed at the Doctoral level the issue is whether this clinician is claiming or implying they have such licensure. If so, this would be fraud and misrepresentation.
Publications and Presentations
In this example, there are no presentations, but there are several studies. With the first study on rats, of course one has to ask how that relates to any of his current work. Furthermore, there probably is no journal of experiential psychology that has this particular title. Secondly, with respect to thought field therapy and agoraphobia, it should be mentioned that that is a very controversial field. If it turns out that the results are not as stated, there always is the possibility that there could be falsification of data leading to retractions.
This was the case recently with a well-known psychologist at Harvard University.[xi] Apparently, the misconduct while carrying out his research was so egregious that he was forced in one instance to retract a published article. There were also corrections that needed to be made. Though rare, such retractions are increasing.[xii] Obviously, retraction will produce a serious question as to an expert's credentials. On the other hand, it could be argued that if an individual self-retracts, they may counter-intuitively enhance their credentials.[xiii]
In the academic arena, there is a hierarchy of positions ranging from instructor to assistant professor, associate professor, visiting professor, professor and distinguished professor. Looking at Dr. Smith's resumé, it can be seen, for example, that he lists visiting professor, USC, 2001. An area of inquiry would go as follows:
Question: Were you a visiting professor at USC?
Question: Where is USC located?
Answer: South Carolina.
Question: So USC listed there is University of South Carolina, correct?
Question: How long was her class that you taught in 2001?
Answer: It was about one semester.
Question: Was that a full semester course, namely 45 hours of instruction?
Answer: I don't think so.
Question: Was that an extended learning course that you taught?
The witness is obviously attempting to give the impression that he not only taught at the University of Southern California but in addition was a regular faculty member. South Carolina is nowhere to be found on the resumé.
Donald A. Eisner, Ph.D. J.D. can be contacted at: email: email@example.com www.eisnerpsychlaw.com
[i] Eisner, D.A., Expert Witness Mental Health Testimony: Handling Deposition and Trial Traps, American Journal of Forensic Psychology (2010) 28,47-65.
[ii] “Therapist's Arrest May Mean a Review of Cases,” Times-Union, 10 June 2010.
[iii] “Fake Psychologist Arrested Did Work for County/Court,” Troy Record, 6 June 2010
[iv] “Real Time for Fake Expert,” Times Herald, 26 July, 2009.
[vii] “A Psychologist Admits Perjury on his Degree,” New York Times, 16 December 1981.
[ix] Personal communication, Debra Miller, Executive Director, American College of Forensic Psychology, August 2010.
[x] “Vicki Mabrey reports on online diploma mills,” CBS News, 10 November 2004.
[xi] “Harvard says Mark Hauser Guilty of Science Misconduct,” USA Today, 10 August 2010.
[xii] Murat Cokol, et al, “Retraction Rates are on the Rise,” European Molecular Biology Organization, 2008.
[xiii] Pignotti, M., "Heart Rate Variability as Outcome Measure for Thought Field Therapy in Clinical Practice," Journal of Clinical Psychology, (2005), 61, 361-365.