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November 14, 2008

Don't look now: Judge orders accused to avert gaze

Image_8 Kansas therapist Arlan Kaufman and his wife Linda ran a hellish-sounding home for the mentally ill. As the 10th Circuit of Appeals summed up this week, the Kaufmans forced residents to "perform sexually explicit acts and farm labor in the nude while maintaining that these acts constituted legitimate psychotherapy for the residents’ mental illnesses. Moreover, the Kaufmans billed Medicare and the residents’ families for the therapy."

Investigators seized videotapes showing the schizophenic residents masturbating and posing nude at Kaufman's direction. "Eventually," the 10th Circuit noted,"the Kaufman House developed rules that required some of the residents to be nude when engaging in certain activities—for example participating in group therapy sessions,eating dinner, and watching television."

Desperate crimes evidently call for desperate courtroom measures. When the Kaufmans went to trial and were ultimately convicted on a variety of charges  the judge ordered them to avoid eye contact with their former charges. Let me repeat that: avoid eye contact. Said the judge:

There isn’t going to be any eyeballing of any of these witnesses. There’s no eye contact. There’s no verbal contact. That is my order. If you violate it, you’ll be in contempt and you will go straight to jail."

The Kaufmans, on appeal, argued that the no-eye-contact order violated their constitutional right to confront their accusers. They had some case law on their side; notably, a 1988 Supreme Court ruling involving a child abuse case where the victim testified from behind a screen. The 10th Circuit on Thursday acknowledged the Kaufmans had "considerable support" for their argument, but ultimately concluded their substantial rights were not violated.



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"Suits & Sentences" is a legal affairs blog written by Michael Doyle, a reporter for McClatchy's Washington Bureau. He was a Knight Journalism Fellow at Yale Law School, where he earned a Master of Studies in Law; he also earned a Masters in Government from The Johns Hopkins University with a thesis on the Freedom of Information Act. He teaches journalism as an adjunct instructor at The George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs.

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