This Monday marked the second full week of testimony in the "Trial of the Century", pitting Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH), a small, New Jersey-based Jewish non-profit organization, against the $340 million dollar Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
At issue are SPLC's claims that JONAH committed consumer fraud by supposedly guaranteeing four former clients that they could go from "gay" to "straight" in 2-4 years. SPLC recruited these clients to sue JONAH in what has become another installment in the nationwide effort to prevent individuals with unwanted same-sex attractions from accessing counseling.
But SPLC's case is unraveling at the seams, and the lies that mark this trial should be a lesson for the nation.
First, last Wednesday, under cross-examination by attorney for the defense Charles LiMandri of the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, Dr. Carol Bernstein, an expert witness for the plaintiffs and a well-known psychiatrist and Vice Chair of the New York University (NYU) School of Medicine, conceded that sexual orientation is fluid and can change. She went on to state that she has not conducted any research on the effectiveness of sexual orientation change effort (SOCE) therapy or familiarized herself with any studies looking at harm from such efforts.
Additionally, when asked about the particular type of counseling, psychodrama, that JONAH uses in its practice, Dr. Bernstein replied that it was not a well-respected counseling modality, despite that fact that Columbia University, where she attended, offers a course for undergraduate students on the method, a fact of which she was unaware.
Yet, while the plaintiffs have been permitted to call expert witnesses who seemingly know nothing about the practice against which they are testifying, Superior Court Judge Peter Bariso disqualified several well-known mental health practitioners, including me, from testifying simply because we offer scientifically refused testimony (or practice under the premise) that homosexuality is a mental disorder and, for some, may change.
This, however, is just one hole in SPLC's case.
Another is that Benjamin Unger, one of the clients who claimed he was harmed by JONAH's counseling, testified on the stand that he was a virgin, yet when cross-examined, he was confronted with the fact that in his initial client intake documents, he had stated he had been having oral and anal sex since he was sixteen years old.
Unger's response to the inconsistency was that he did indeed have anal sex, but didn't ejaculate. This explanation hardly engenders confidence in SPLC's tactics. And it's been very clear throughout the first week of testimony that some of the plaintiffs are in some cases lying through their teeth, and in other cases, delusional.
For example, plaintiff and former JONAH client Chaim Levin said he was distressed by the counseling he underwent, yet multiple times during his counseling he wrote enthusiastically of the help he was receiving, so much so that he wanted to become a public spokesman for JONAH as a testimony of change. He even went on the record in depositions and admitted during the trial that at times, he was attracted to women and the girl he was dating at the time he was undergoing counseling. Even more bizarre was testimony from Levin's mother, who was questioned why she accused co-director Arthur Goldberg and life coach Alan Downing, in depositions, of molesting her son. Even the SPLC didn't take Levin's strange rant seriously.
Another client's mother, Jo Bruck, was forced to admit that JONAH never made any guarantee that her son would go from "gay" to "straight" when it was brought to her attention that she signed an informed consent document that expressly said there was no guarantee, and that she initialed several paragraphs, one of which discussed the controversial nature of JONAH's services and that there was no guarantee of success.
As the trial enters its second full week of testimony, one thing is clear: the SPLC will continue to put witnesses on the stand that will be thoroughly discredited. The only question is whether the jury will consider the facts or be swayed by the SPLC's rhetoric and bias.
At this point in the trial, it would be expected that the plaintiffs would have the momentum before the defense has had the chance to present its case. But with the utter nonsense offered so far as testimony, LiMandri and company may just choose to rest their case and allow the plaintiffs to score a win for JONAH by continuing to misrepresent themselves for the next three weeks.