State Eyes Psych Misconduct; Older Cases Reviewed; Prosecution Possible

Article excerpt

Byline: J. TAYLOR RUSHING, Capital Bureau Chief

TALLAHASSEE -- Several misconduct cases involving psychiatrists are being belatedly sent to state attorneys across Florida, years after the doctors were disciplined by the state but never referred for possible criminal prosecution.

Under Florida law, the cases should have been forwarded to prosecutors by a division of the Department of Health.

State officials would not comment on particular cases. But Amy Jones, director of the Medical Quality Assurance Division of the state Health Department, said a consumer services unit within the department is exploring whether older cases were properly referred.

"The unit is currently conducting an audit to determine if there are other cases prior to 2002 which were not sent to the proper prosecuting authorities and to ensure all cases are forwarded in accordance with the law," Jones said.

In the Fourth Circuit covering Duval, Clay and Nassau counties, two old cases were recently sent to State Attorney Harry Shorstein of Jacksonville involving accusations of improper sexual relations with patients. Shorstein, however, said he is unlikely to prosecute because the situations appear to be consensual.

Clearwater resident Ken Kramer has been prodding state health officials into forwarding the cases and estimates through his research that there are about 75 statewide that have not been properly considered for prosecution.

Kramer, a member of the Church of Scientology, which opposes psychiatry, said he wants more scrutiny of the profession. He has also launched a Web site (reachable through Jacksonville.com, keywords: doc sex) to document psychiatrists' disciplinary records.

"I found a lot of the discipline cases were about sexual misconduct, but there were minimal arrests by law enforcement, so something didn't add up," Kramer said. "I started asking the Department of Health about specific cases they had forwarded, and they couldn't find anything. . . . The whole point is to have this available for consumers so they can research their doctors."

Kramer has successfully urged the state to belatedly forward about a half-dozen cases so far.

The Northeast Florida cases sent to Shorstein involved William C. Devereux and Ernest C. Miller.

Devereux is a Jacksonville psychologist who was fined and restricted by the state after being accused of a sexual relationship with a patient.

Devereux signed a June 12, 2000, agreement in which he neither admitted nor denied the allegations but agreed to restrictions on treating female patients. For example, Devereux is allowed to see women patients only when a female staff member is present in an adjoining office and can watch through a window.

Devereux said the possibility of criminal prosecution was never mentioned during settlement negotiations with the state. He declined to comment in detail.

"I've gone through hell and back and I've met all requirements," he said.

Miller, a Jacksonville psychiatrist often used by local prosecutors and defenders as an expert witness, was disciplined by the state in 2000 for misconduct.

Miller was accused of five counts of misconduct involving a female patient, including an improper sexual relationship. He signed an August 2000 agreement in which he neither admitted nor denied the charges but agreed to a fine, a reprimand and is restricted to forensic medicine with only necessary contact with patients. …