Whores of the Court: The Fraud of Psychiatric Testimony and The Rape Of American Justice

Hagen, Margaret A.; Feb 01 1997
Edition1 ed.
Place PublishedUSA
PublisherRegan Books
Extent352 pp.
Whores of the Court
ISBN Number0060391979

ISBN 10: 0060391979 / 0-06-039197-9
ISBN 13: 9780060391973
Book freely available for download from the website:
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Publishers Weekly

January 13, 1997

Boston University psychology professor Hagen delivers a damning indictment of the psychologizing — and undermining — of the American legal system through judges’ and juries’ reliance on the well-paid testimony of self-styled psychological experts.

Spouting what often amounts to unscientific, unsubstantiated psychobabble, these ‘whores of the court,’ she charges, be they psychiatrists, social workers, psychologists or others, often determine

  • whether murderers and rapists are competent to stand trial,
  • whether a batterer will be viewed as likely to offend again after receiving therapy,
  • whether a person experienced mental injury at the hand of a neighbor or an unfeeling institution,
  • whether recovered memories of alleged traumas are genuine.

With righteous wrath and devastating wit, Hagen punctures the inflated claims of much expert testimony. She blames liberal and feminist lawyers and apologist psychologists for what she claims is the courts’ tendency to exonerate perpetrators of crimes on the grounds that they are victims of mental illness, dysfunctional families or economically disadvantaged backgrounds. This sweeping critique should stir national debate.

The Boston Globe, City Edition

Sunday, March 16, 1997

Margaret A. Hagen, who teaches at Boston University, picks many bones with the specialists in Whores of the Court: The Fraud of Psychiatric Testimony and the Rape of American Justice (Regan Books). Hagen, who holds a doctorate in developmental psychology, contends that the psychological helping professions have sold out for money by giving false or worthless testimony in court.

Beyond that specific contention, Hagen dismisses clinical psychology generally, from Freud onward, calling it 'junk science,' and argues that 'judges and juries, the people alone, must decide questions of insanity, competence, rehabilitation, custody, injury, and disability without the help of psychological experts and their fraudulent skills'.

The Boston Herald, Third Edition

Wednesday, March 19, 1997

  • HEADLINE: Craziness in the 'Court'; Hub author dismisses 'psycho-expert' testimony as ludicrous
  • BYLINE: By Stephanie Schrorow

No question psychology professor Margaret Hagen has bitten the hand that feeds her. Not with a nip, mind you, but a full-throttle chomp.

She begins by calling her fellow professionals 'whores'.

Hagen, who has taught psychology at Boston University since the mid-1970s, has published a wide-ranging, no-holds-barred screed against psychiatrists, psychologists and counselors who testify as 'experts' in criminal and civil courts and child custody cases.

Outrage gushes from nearly every page of Whores of the Court: The Fraud of Psychiatric Testimony and the Rape of American Justice, (Harper Collins). Hagen, who has a Ph.D. in psychology, blasts "psycho-experts" who testify as to a person's past state of mind or motivations in criminal cases.

  • ("There simply is no mental stethoscope, no matter how much our justice system wishes there were.")

She slams the huge fees forensic psychologists charge for their testimony, costs often passed on to taxpayers, as in John Salvi's trial.

  • ('Hey, if you have to ask how much it costs to be found crazy, you can't afford it.')

She hammers away at the elevation of 'junk science', including repressed memory syndrome and Post-Traumatic Shock Disorder.

Belying her strident tone, Hagen is warm in person, with a soft halo of blond hair and cheery laugh. The author of several books on vision and memory, she wrote Whores after a firsthand experience.

In 1993, her older brother was sued for $ 3.4 million by the daughter of a former girlfriend for sexual abuse allegedly committed 20 years earlier but only recently remembered. A parade of 'experts' testified the woman suffered from Post-Traumatic Shock Disorder caused during childhood 'and my poor brother was the perpetrator.'

  • 'How could they know that? They weren't there. There's no evidence except the woman said so,' Hagen said. 'That was just astounding to me.'

Her brother eventually won the case with a parade of his own 'experts' (at a cost of $ 90,000), and Hagen began a three-year research effort.

Drawing mostly on newspaper accounts, she cites case after case in which the inexactitudes of psychology became legal gospel. She derides good-parenting tests used to determine child custody. And she puts no stock in mental health cures for violent behavior, lumping wife batterers in with murderers.

  • 'There is no psychological cure for the desire to beat up women, to rape and murder them. The very idea that psychotherapy today could even pretend to such an ability is ludicrous,' she writes.
  • 'Yet liberal news editorials call endlessly for ever more 'treatment' for these offenders. This shows either extraordinary faith or willful blindness.'

Hagen saves particular ire for testimony about repressed memory of trauma, contending that the condition does not exist. 'I've never heard of a case where someone forgot the Holocaust,' she said.

Hagen admits today's courts are desperate for tools to determine complex, tricky issues. But

  • 'bringing in pseudo experts to solve a problem just creates another problem.'

Her arguments may anger many. Sharon Gordetsky, president-elect of the Massachusetts Psychological Association, sees a difference between a 'hired gun' and a witness who provides information the jury and judge will use as they see fit.

While recovered memories have become controversial psychological issues,

  • 'The fact is many people who experience trauma have memory disturbances, including amnesia,'

said Judith Herman, Harvard clinical psychology professor and author of Trauma and Recovery.

Lenore Walker, forensic psychologist and frequent expert witness, said professionals help a jury understand actions that defy common sense, such as the battered wife who kills an abusive husband while he sleeps instead of leaving. Walker insists that, yes, given her clinical experience, 'I have a pretty good idea within a reasonable degree of certainty' what is in a patient's mind.

That attitude makes Hagen seethe.

  • 'In any case where the testimony is the product of their clinical intuition as opposed to science, they don't belong in court,' she said. 'They lend an air of spurious authority that is misleading to the judge and the jury.'

The Baltimore Sun, Final Edition

Wednesday, April 2, 1997

  • HEADLINE: What do experts know?
  • BYLINE: Mona Charen

WASHINGTON -- In the hands of Margaret Hagen, an anecdote can be a deadly weapon. Here is an example from her new book, Whores of the Court. . .

  • "'David Willard Phipps Jr., a Gulf War veteran, was convicted of first-degree murder . . . for killing his wife's lover, Michael Presson. Phipps did not deny killing Presson. . . . He claimed that he was unable to formulate the mens rea [intent] for first-degree murder because he was suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • 'Judge Julian Guinn of Tennessee apparently thought this claim did not hold water and instructed the jury, 'I charge you that post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression are not defenses to a criminal charge.' The judge was reversed on appeal for being, according to Ms. Hagen, 'unduly wary of expert psychological opinion.'

The anecdote illustrates what a rare, free-thinking jurist Judge Guinn is. Too many American judges and juries have turned over the weighing of facts to psychological experts in matters from disability claims and child custody to murder.

Ms. Hagen would argue that except in extremely limited circumstances, the very notion of 'expert psychological opinion' is a farce.

An experimental psychologist herself, she believes that her profession is qualified only to measure very limited things about the brain -- perception, language, learning, cognition and memory. The rest she dismisses as 'witch doctoring.'

Psychotherapists, she passionately argues, have no special wisdom about the human soul. They have no tools to see what ordinary people miss. There is no science to labeling people 'depressed' or 'phobic' or suffering from 'post-traumatic stress disorder.' It's all intuition, and while that doesn't make it worthless, it doesn't make it science, either.

You don't have to buy Ms. Hagen's blanket indictment of clinical psychology (I don't) to see that her case for removing psychologists from America's courtrooms is strong.

In 1990, George Franklin was convicted of a murder committed 20 years before (the conviction was later reversed). The only witnesses against him were his estranged daughter and her therapist.

The therapist explained that Eileen Franklin Lipsker suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and had repressed the memory of seeing her father commit this crime against her friend for 20 years. She testified that children often 'repress' memories of traumatic incidents for many years, recalling them to consciousness only many years later. At trial, Ms. Lipsker provided only details that had appeared in the press.

There is no science, Ms. Hagen says, underlying the concept of 'recovered-memory syndrome.' Yet, the word of one expert was sufficient to get a man convicted of murder. Is it wise to call such intuitions 'expert testimony'?

Designed to exculpate.

Psychologists and their lawyer partners have been quite creative in devising more and more diagnoses designed to exculpate. There is 'urban psychosis', 'battered-woman syndrome' and 'black rage', to name just three.

Through an ever-expanding list of 'diminished-capacity' defenses to criminal charges, and through the admission of expert testimony on matters like 'flashbacks' and 'brief psychotic disorder', the misuse of psychological testimony is undermining the foundation of our justice system -- the concept that people are responsible for their own conduct.

In the civil courts, things are, if anything, worse. Psychologists and other therapists routinely bolster the claims of those who say they cannot work because they are too mentally or emotionally damaged -- or so emotionally scarred from sexual harassment or being fired, or whatever, that they require millions in compensation.

In the psychologized American courts of today, they're often getting what they request.

A woman in Washington state was awarded $900,000 after being fired from a job at a radio station. Her employer said she was abrasive and obnoxious. She said that she had informed her employer of her manic depression two months before the firing. The jury found that her dismissal constituted unlawful discrimination against the mentally handicapped.

Ms. Hagen's indictment of clinical psychology may be overwrought, but her advice that we repudiate psychological testimony is sound. When people seek to reform themselves, psychology has a valuable role to play, as it does in treating mental illness. But when it comes to judging lies or truth, intent or accident, and good or evil in a court of law, ordinary common sense is a better guide than psychology."