Therapist's suicide could trigger challenges in legal cases
Seattle Times staff reporters
The arrest and suicide of a prominent Seattle psychologist who was often an expert witness in sexual-abuse and child-custody cases could raise questions about his recommendations, and some could be challenged, judges say.
Renton police on Wednesday found Stuart Greenberg's body after employees at the Clarion hotel entered his room and found a note on the floor that read, "medical personnel, do not resuscitate. Let me die," according to a Renton police report.
Officers later found Greenberg in a bathtub. He had cuts on both wrists, and police found a variety of medications in the bathroom. The case is being investigated as an overdose.
Greenberg, 59, was well-known as an expert witness in sexual-abuse cases. He had worked as a consultant to the Archdiocese of Seattle, which was defending itself in priest-abuse cases. He also had served as an expert witness on behalf of sex-abuse victims in other cases.
Greenberg also was frequently appointed as a parenting evaluator in child-custody cases.
Greenberg was arrested then suspended from practice earlier this month after allegations surfaced that he had secretly videotaped a woman in his office bathroom.
He was booked into the King County Jail on July 3 after an acquaintance found the videotape in the psychologist's VCR and alerted the person who appeared on the tape, police said. The tape was then handed over to police.
While in jail, Greenberg had been placed on suicide watch, according to the Renton police report. He was conditionally released two days after his arrest.
Dan Donohoe, spokesman for the King County Prosecutor's Office, said a decision on whether to file charges against Greenberg had not been made. But the state Board of Psychology suspended his license after the voyeurism allegation.
Greenberg, as a parenting evaluator in child-custody cases, carried tremendous power. A parenting evaluator's job is to interview all the parties involved and make custody recommendations; typically, the recommendations are followed.
Greenberg had developed a national reputation, as well. His curriculum vitae, listing all his professional accomplishments, runs 19 pages.
Among other things, he served as president of the American Board of Forensic Psychology in 2002-2003 and taught dozens of continuing-education courses across the country for fellow psychologists.
He also trained a crop of would-be psychologists as a clinical assistant professor at the University of Washington, and before that at the University of Southern California and the University of Iowa.
King County Presiding Judge Michael Trickey said the courts — and families going through custody battles — will have to contend with a number of difficult issues in the wake of Greenberg's arrest and subsequent death. He anticipates a flurry of challenges by parties who were unhappy with past evaluations involving Greenberg.
Greenberg's arrest alone wouldn't be enough to reopen a case. But if his recommendations hinged on a parent's alleged sexual deviancy, for example, that parent could argue that Greenberg's opinion was tainted by his alleged actions.
"Never having dealt with this before, I'm not sure how this would play out," Trickey said, adding, "I assume we're going to deal with it sooner rather than later."
The court doesn't keep count of cases assigned to a particular parenting evaluator, so it's impossible to tell how many families could be affected. But it's a given that all of Greenberg's pending cases will have to be reassigned to other evaluators — a process that was already under way since his arrest and suspension of his license to practice psychology.
Judge James Doerty, the chief family-court judge, said a key question in reopening old cases is whether the child-custody plan has been working for the child.
"The problem about going backwards and redoing those decisions is you are actually changing the lives the children have led," Doerty said.
"Great gifts and flaws"
On Sunday, Greenberg's wife checked him into an Extended Stay Deluxe motel in Renton because he said he didn't feel safe at home, the police report said.
Marcia Greenberg told police her husband had been depressed for nearly four months, possibly from a change in heart medication, and was upset by his recent arrest, the report read.
The Greenbergs went to dinner that night and then Marcia Greenberg returned to their Seattle home.
But at some point Greenberg left the motel and checked into the Clarion on Monday, police said.
Marcia Greenberg said she last spoke with her husband around 8 p.m. on Monday, according to the report.
"We are overwhelmed by loss and with grief that we could not convince Stu life was worth living," Marcia Greenberg wrote in a statement released Thursday. "Stu had great gifts and flaws, but to us he was a much loved husband, father, brother, and son. We miss him terribly."
Greenberg left suicide notes to his wife, daughter and "everyone else I hurt," the police report said. His wife said he apologized for his actions in the notes, the report states.
The King County Medical Examiner's Office said an autopsy was done Thursday but a cause of death won't be released until toxicology tests are completed.
Seattle Times staff reporters Nancy Kelsey and Michael Berens contributed to this report.
Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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