Medical Child Abuse Panic

Judge Svetkey’s Ruling: Unpacking the Bias Against Defendant & Expert Witnesses

Three highly respected experts in their medical fields testified for the defense in the DeLaurent dependency case. In her written Findings of Fact, Judge Susan Svetkey failed to cite a single element of the actual opinions provided by the three witnesses whose statements emphatically disputed the State’s claims. From a combined two full days of their expert testimony, Judge Svetkey drew the following conclusions in her judgement released on May 2nd, 2018:

The court did not find Dr. Shuman or Dr. Freeman’s testimony credible or helpful.”

She [Dr. Ballard] testified that mother did not present those psychological traits common in medical child abuse parents.  Unfortunately, Dr. Ballard was able to review only that information which mother chose to provide.”

The above statements present a harsh criticism of the three medical experts’ knowledge, competence and ethical fortitude and highlight the ever-present bias that is consistent throughout Judge Svetkey’s written opinion.

Dr. Robert Shuman:

Dr. Robert Shuman is a pediatric neurologist and pathologist who based his 70-page report and testimony on a detailed analysis of the lifetime medical  records of DeLaurent’s son, Marcus. During the dependency trial, Dr. Shuman provided the court with significant medical evidence demonstrating a disturbing history of “failure to diagnose” and “misdiagnoses” of serious neurological conditions, including a chiari malformation on Marcus’ cerebellum that should have been treated in early childhood.

After disregarding Doctor Robert Shuman’s 37-page Curriculum Vitae of qualifications and accomplishments, nearly 50 years of medical experience, and his full day of testimony demolishing the State’s case against Trisha DeLaurent, Judge Svetkey wrote in her Findings of Fact:

Dr. Shuman presented himself as an advocate for mother and held himself out as more of an expert than doctors with subspecialties in fields which he held no credentials.

**Note: the “doctors with subspecialties…” to whom Judge Svetkey compared Dr. Shuman in the above statement is Child Abuse Pediatrician Heather McKeag who is 39 years old, and who graduated from Indiana University School of Medicine less than a decade before the onset of this case. Dr. Shuman was receiving prestigious awards for his practice of medicine before Dr. Heather McKeag was born.

Dr. Michael Freeman:

The principles of forensic epidemiology combines the practices of medicine and forensic investigations by examining clinical decision-making and data determinations relating to cause. Dr. Freeman emphasized during his testimony the importance of using all available data to rule out other potential causes before resting on factitious disorder (medical child abuse). Dr. Freeman provided expert testimony based on a thorough review of all medical records and reports, and he determined that Dr. McKeag failed to consider causes other than medical child abuse in her evaluation.

Without acknowledging the 26 page Curriculum Vitae of qualifications and accomplishments, or citing any testimony provided by Fulbright Scholar and notable expert, Dr. Michael D. Freeman, Judge Svetkey wrote:

“Dr. Freeman, a forensic epidemiologist was called to give his opinion that there are other possible reasons for [Marcus’] condition.  The Court cannot imagine, based on the evidence received, what a credible alternative explanation might be.”

**Note: During his expert testimony, Dr. Freeman detailed those credible alternatives based on his thorough analysis of the same records reviewed by Child Abuse Pediatrician Heather McKeag.  There was never a need for Judge Svetkey to “imagine” credible alternatives, they were provided in record by Dr. Freeman.

Dr. Roberta Ballard:

Dr. Roberta Ballard is a leading Oregon psychologist, usually relied upon to testify for the State as an expert witness, particularly in cases involving alleged child abuse and Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. During her half day testimony, Dr. Ballard shared test results of several mental health assessments administered at two separate points in time with the defendant. One of those tests was the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), considered to be one of the most accurate psychological assessment tools in the mental health field.

The MMPI is a “protected psychological instrument”, meaning it can only be given and interpreted by a specifically trained psychologist.  In spite of Dr. Ballard’s specialized experience and expert testimony including data supporting the defendant’s strong mental fitness and lack of any characteristics matching the State’s claims of mental unfitness, Judge Svetkey disregarded all of Dr. Ballard’s testimony and wrote in her judgement:

She [Dr. Ballard] testified that mother did not present those psychological traits common in medical child abuse parents.  Unfortunately, Dr. Ballard was able to review only that information which mother chose to provide.”

Judge Svetkey’s subjective interpretation based on courtroom observations of Trisha DeLaurent

In her judgement, Judge Svetkey indicated that Dr. Ballard could not have done an accurate evaluation of Trisha DeLaurent’s psychological fitness based on professional clinical tools and subject interviews.  Perhaps the trier of fact, Judge Susan Svetkey, felt her own personal views of the defendant based on her observations and impressions during court hearings would have been appropriate to include.  A few of those, quoted directly from the second half of Judge Svetkey’s  written judgement, are cited below:

  • Every day, mother postured as a trial assistance or co-counsel.”
  • …she could be seen directing each of her lawyers, arranging her lawyers’ notes, all non-stop.”
  • “She displayed no emotional reaction…”
  • “There was virtually no emotional quality to her demeanor…”
  • “She sat clear-eyed, seemingly unmoved…”
  • “Except while testifying—when she was strident, self-righteous, and at times on verge of losing control.”
  • She did, however, cry when she testified that her children were removed, although evidence was that she displayed no emotion at time of removal.”

Judge Svetkey’s subjective opinions demonstrated her overwhelming bias toward Trisha DeLaurent. The trier of fact included scathing criticism and her personal interpretation regarding the courtroom demeanor of a mother who was defending herself against horrific accusations of intentional harm to her children whom she had been separated from for an excruciating 18 months.

A question for Judge Susan Svetkey:  What is the “acceptable” courtroom demeanor for a mother, under attack, who has maintained her innocence and worked tirelessly toward the safe return of her children for 18 months?  

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