What Should Judges Know About the Experts They Use?

The Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas regularly appoints psychologists to evaluate child custody cases, but how much do judges know about the psychologists they use? Apparently not enough. Dom

The Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas regularly appoints psychologists to evaluate child custody cases, but how much do judges know about the psychologists they use?

Apparently not enough.

Domestic relations judges often assign Michael Borack, a Cincinnati psychologist who specializes in child custody evaluations and domestic violence, to meet with parents. Borack says he has evaluated at least 30 cases in Hamilton County courts.

"He came very highly recommended," says Administrative Judge Ronald Panioto.

But Panioto says he didn't know Borack was disciplined last year for his work in a Kenton County custody dispute. In a settlement with the Board of Examiners of Psychology in Kentucky, Borack admitted rendering a formal professional opinion about a person with whom he had made no direct or substantial contact, a violation of Kentucky law. Borack wrote a report for the court without contacting the father involved in the case.

Kentucky put Borack on probation and supervision for a year. In the same case, he interviewed the mother and wrote a report without having a Kentucky license.

In the settlement, the board acknowledged that Borack didn't knowingly practice without a license and allowed him to keep the license he'd later received.

No formal action has been taken against Borack in Ohio, though the State Board of Psychology in Ohio is investigating at least one complaint.

Panioto says he was unaware of Borack's problems in Kentucky.

"I'll have to check into him," Panioto says. "I would have to look into it, but right off the top of my head, I don't think we'd appoint him."

The parties involved in custody disputes usually pay for the psychological evaluations, and they don't come cheap. Borack says he typically receives $2,000 to $4,000 for his evaluations.

Borack calls his trouble in Kentucky a technical error that didn't affect the case. The problem was differences in state laws about requirements for rendering an opinion, he says.

"The state of Ohio statute reads 'substantial professional information,' " he says. "In Kentucky, it references 'substantial contact.' "

Borack says he informed the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas about the Kentucky case by telling Jayne Zuberbuhler, supervisor of the court's Parenting Department. He expected Zuberbuhler to inform the judges.

"I don't call the judges," Borack says. "I don't think that's appropriate."

Zuberbuhler didn't return a reporter's calls.

Complaints and objections to evaluations are typical in his line of work, according to Borack. He says that, of the five or six complaints he has had filed against him, only the Kentucky case resulted in formal action.

"Very few people will do this work," he says. "Someone is always after you. With all these angry people and their allegations, there's a child involved, and I'm there to fight for that child."

The State Board of Psychology in Ohio sent Borack a letter informing him he didn't breech Ohio law during the Kentucky case.

Joseph Perkins, who has a complaint against Borack pending before the Ohio board, says Hamilton County courts should take a closer look at Borack based on the Kentucky case.

"I think somebody who is used by the court should be above reproach," he says.

After Borack performed an evaluation in Perkins' domestic court case, Perkins filed a motion for peer review of the report, which Perkins claimed didn't utilize information he gave Borack. The magistrate rejected the motion.

While Panioto looks into the Kentucky case, Borack says he's closing his private practice to work at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where he'll help create a training program for psychologists interested in custody dispute cases.

Borack says if Hamilton County judges were to stop appointing him, it would be a loss to the community; few psychologists in Greater Cincinnati have expertise in child custody.

But does it really serve the community to have judges appoint people without fully knowing their backgrounds?

BURNING QUESTIONS is our weekly attempt to afflict the comfortable.

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