Tuesday, January 7, 2003

Perjury an issue in Butler courts

County commissioners ask judges to stop false testimony

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON - After listening to the emotional stories of several divorced parents who said false testimony cost them custody and visitation battles in Butler County Domestic Relations and Juvenile courts, county commissioners urged the judges in those two courts Monday to crack down on perjury.

Commissioners sent letters to Domestic Relations Judges Leslie Spillane and Sharon Kennedy and Juvenile Court Judges David Niehaus and Ronald Craft asking them to "attack the general problem of false statements in your courts" and to punish perjurers.

Commissioner Mike Fox said if the two courts don't take steps to address the issue, he might request the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate.

"I would rather the courts take care of it themselves," he said.

This controversy was spurred by the state's recent removal of the license of Dr. Roger Fisher, a Butler County psychologist, because of complaints accusing him of submitting psychological evaluations in four Butler County Domestic Relations Court cases without interviewing the subjects.

Mark Dildilian, a former Ohio resident who was one of four parents who complained about Dr. Fisher to the Ohio Board of Psychology, told the commissioners that the psychologist's false testimony has cost him precious time with his daughter over the past seven years.

"My daughter and myself have lost those important and cherished key adolescent and development years," he told commissioners. "You must understand the sheer hell that many people have gone through."

But Mr. Dildilian, as well as the commissioners and other parents at the meeting Monday, said the problem of false testimony from experts and other witnesses in those two courts extends beyond Dr. Fisher.

"Their experiences are a symptom of a problem," Mr. Fox said. "The larger issue is that neither Juvenile Court nor Domestic Relations Court places a priority on telling the truth. Lawyers and expert witnesses routinely misrepresent facts and lie, and there are no consequences."

But Judge Spillane and Rob Clevenger, director of operations for Butler County Juvenile Court, said perjury is not a major problem in their courts.

"It's a miniscule problem," Judge Spillane said. "I think the commissioners are making false assumptions based on a few cases."

She said that in her 20 years on the bench, she has referred two people for prosecution on charges of perjury. Except for proven egregious instances of lying, it would be impractical to prosecute everyone who fails to be truthful in court.

Mr. Clevenger said he is reviewing Mr. Dildilian's case to determine if Dr. Fisher perjured himself. He said he also will be looking into a case involving Doug Songer, a Hamilton man who told commissioners Monday that he thought Dr. Fisher had given false testimony in his custody case.

"Dr. Fisher is just the tip of the iceberg," said Mr. Songer, a former Butler County sheriff's deputy. "The wrong in this county is wide and deep."

At the very least, the parents and commissioners want the courts to review other cases Dr. Fisher has been involved in to determine if he gave false testimony that influenced court decisions.

But Judge Spillane and Mr. Clevenger said it would be too time-consuming for the courts to sift through thousands of cases by hand to find those where Dr. Fisher had testified. They both said Dr. Fisher has testified in few cases in recent years.

Judge Spillane suggested that people who believe they were wronged by false testimony file motions for Domestic Relations Court to reopen their cases.

E-mail skemme@enquirer.com

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