Janet C. Phelan
The California State Psychology Board has launched an action against a Northern California psychologist and advocate for the disabled, and has ordered the practitioner into a psychiatric evaluation or face revocation of his license.
In an unprecedented deviation from the Board’s mandate to investigate consumer complaints, the Board has involved itself in what appears to be an employer/employee dispute.
Psychology Board employee Gina Bayless refused to go on the record as to why the Board has taken such an unusual stance in the matter of Dr. Robert Fettgather. The State Psychology Board, which is housed in the State Department of Consumer Affairs, has placed on its website a legal document mandating Fettgather into the evaluation but omits any names of or details about his accusers.
This reporter has obtained the names of the four former employees of Dr. Fettgather who have filed complaints against him. Bayless refused to confirm or deny that these were the complainants due to what she called “privacy issues.”
Dr. Fettgather, who has been licensed to practice psychology in the State of California for 22 years without a complaint being lodged against him, came under scrutiny by the Board following a series of events surrounding his advocacy for his disabled son, David. David was born with Down Syndrome.
According to Fettgather, David was prompted by Herman Kothe, a caseworker at Alta Regional Center, to “scribble on the signature line (he cannot provide informed consent) and signed his life away into care home exile.”
His father refers to the warehousing of his son as “incarceration.” The Fettgathers had divorced many years ago and, up until the time that the mother moved from San Jose to Sacramento, were sharing custody of David. Around the time that David turned eighteen, he was placed by his mother into what Dr. Fettgather terms a “slum home.” Dr. Fettgather was erroneously informed by the Alta Regional center staff that David had to be conserved once he reached the age of eighteen. In fact, this is not the case in the State of California. According to the Director of Association of Regional Centers, Eileen Richey, there are very few DD adults under conservatorship in California and this generally takes place when the individual has no parents.
In an effort to comply with what he thought was a legal necessity and unable to work with his ex-wife on the issue of David’s care, Fettgather decided to look for a suitable guardian. Fettgather reports having interviewed Kay Carrigan and states he was satisfied that she was going to do the best for David. The last thing he expected was what followed.
Dr. Fettgather wanted his son to return to San Jose and live with him. Conservator Carrigan refused to permit this, and placed David into yet another home for the developmentally disabled. She then curtailed his education, removing him from the high school he had been successfully attending and putting him back into a segregated middle school. Fettgather reports his son began to decompensate.
In a letter dated 8/21/07 from Fettgather’s attorney Betty Marshall to Carrigan’s attorney, Fred Heise, Marshall alleges that Carrigan and Heise were “withholding information and conspiring to deprive David of Dr. Fettgathers legal mandated involvement in the IEP and IPP process for David.” State and Federal law mandate the IEP and IPP to protect the rights of the disabled.
Carrigan ultimately resigned and was replaced by conservator Betty Wright. Dr. Fettgather believes she resigned to avoid a possible lawsuit.
In the meantime, Fettgather became increasingly politically active around the issue of adult guardianship, which has become a “national nightmare,” according to elder advocate and activist Bonnie Reiter.
Reiter, who lost her mother, Corinne Bramson, to a conservator/hospice scam in Florida, has termed conservatorship a “holocaust on the elderly and disabled.” Fettgather began to join together with other conservatorship activists and set up a website, David Fettgather’s Circle of Support (friendsofdavidfettgather.blogspot.com).
He also started contacting his elected representatives concerning the abuses going on in David’s case. He filed, along with other conservatorship victims, a complaint with the State Attorney General. He also filed a complaint against the conservator with the Professional Fiduciaries Bureau (PFB) only to be advised that his sole remedy lay with the court. Jane Valdez, an erstwhile analyst with the PFB, which–along with the Psychology Board –is housed in the Department of Consumer Affairs, advised him of the closure in a telephone call and has refused to put this in writing.
The PFB got into hot water a couple of years back when it was determined that the agency was closing complaints and advising complainants that their remedy lay with the court. This is a departure from the mandate of that agency to investigate and prosecute conservator misconduct. The agency now appears to have adopted a policy of verbal notification of complaint closures and is reluctant to commit this type of questionable determination to writing. Recent revelations that the Professional Fiduciaries Bureau does not have a policies and procedures manual has raised alarm that the agency is in violation of the law in numerous aspects of its functioning.
Parenthetically, Fettgather’s advocacy work spans several decades. In 1976, he first began advocating for those institutionalized in California State mental hospitals, which were considered by many to be the worst in the United States. Ultimately, the hospitals were shut down by Governor Ronald Reagan.
In 2008, Fettgather met with Assemblyman Jim Beall. When Beall failed to follow up on David’s situation, Fettgather called him on it. Presenting at a Town Hall meeting in April of 2011, Fettgather told David’s story and revealed that Beall had ignored his pleas. Beall was embarrassed. Following the meeting, Beall contacted the Dignitary Protection Section of the California Highway Patrol, alleging that Fettgather had “accosted” him.
The DPS investigator contacted the conservator and also at least one judge. Apparently at this juncture, a number of others in the conservatorship community were also notified. However, according to a press officer at the California Highway Patrol, the DPS investigator determined that no crime had occurred and that there was no threat.
Assemblyman Beall’s office replied to queries as to the nature of his complaint to the DPS and stated “Following the security protocols of the California Highway Patrol unit responsible for the safety of legislators, the Assembly District 24 office is precluded from commenting on any interactions Mr. Fettgather has had with authorities or Assemblymember Beall.” The Assemblyman’s office also stated that “Mr. Beall and his staff have brought Mr. Fettgather’s personal concerns regarding his son, as well as his allegations, to the attention of the Department of Developmental Services. Because of confidentiality regulations, the Assembly District 24 office is not allowed to share that information with you.”
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Two days after the Town Hall meeting, Dr. Fettgather visited Alta Regional Center and asked to meet with David’s caseworker.
A strong relationship exists between the regional centers and the conservators who take charge of the developmentally disabled. The RC’s work closely with the conservators as a team to locate services and vendors for the developmentally disabled.
Instead of meeting with a caseworker, Fettgather was taken into a private room by Alta Regional Center employee David Rydquist. Moments later, Executive Director Phil Bonnet joined them and began to level accusations against Dr. Fettgather. States Fettgather, “”Bonnet tried to provoke me at every turn….he made countless intimations about my mental status: are you going to kidnap your son; you’ve been acting pretty strangely…” According to Dr. Fettgather, Bonnet referenced the recent incident with Beall, stating he had already been informed about it.
Fettgather states that Bonnet manhandled him in an effort to forcibly escort him out of the building. Fettgather called the police and reported the assault. Fettgather’s fiancée had accompanied him to the Alta RC and was reportedly badly shaken by the incident.
Alta Regional Center Director Phil Bonnet did not return calls asking for his input on the incident with Dr. Fettgather.
This soon morphed to a non-consumer complaint and ultimately he was told that four of his former employees had filed complaints against him. Also referenced is a complaint by a wife of a former patient. The wife was in treatment with one of the former employees.
Citing concerns about his mental status, the California State Psychology Board has ordered Fettgather into a psychiatric assessment. He has refused. The hearing is scheduled in Administrative Law court in Oakland on May 14.
At this juncture, Fettgather is permitted to see David every other weekend. Due to the length of the drive from San Jose to Sacramento, he has parked a houseboat in the Sacramento area for the weekend visits.
”I have spent over 100,000 in court fighting for David,” he reports. He refuses to go back into probate court, stating it is pointless. “There is a cozy relationship between the judges and the professional conservators,” he states. “The conservator’s attorney has stated that I am a ‘legal stranger’ to my son. They own him now.” Incidentally, Fettgather has been paying half the conservator’s fees, half her attorney’s fees and half the fees of the attorney appointed by the court to represent David, splitting these bills with his ex-wife. He states that he stopped paying on these bills a few months back, dismayed by the lack of attention to David’s well-being.
“David is very unhappy,” says Dr. Fettgather. “He wants to come home.”
Fettgather fears that the attempt to revoke his license to practice will, if successful, negatively impact his ability to advocate for his son.
A growing number of people who have attempted to advocate for a family member under a conservatorship have found themselves the target of retaliation. Dr. Robert Sarhan of Florida, who lost his mother to highly questionable medical decisions made by her conservator, also lost his medical license and narrowly escaped an effort by Social Services to take away his son. A number of people, including Marty Prehn and Russell East, have found the financial retaliation for their advocacy has resulted in their homelessness. Others, such as Ray Fernandez, have left the U.S. due to perceptions of extreme prejudice by the conservatorship courts. Robert Gettinger was arrested by a SWAT team in Southern California when his internet postings about corrupt probate judges raised the ire of the legal community. No charges were ever lodged and Gettinger, a former police officer, was released after a couple of days in jail.
Others, such as Ricky Ritch, claim that they were assaulted by the police due to their attempts to advocate against abusive conservatorships. Jeannie Tanaka, who is an attorney for the State of California, was subject to a false arrest when Conservator Linda Cotterman made a false police report and had Jeannie taken into custody during a routine visit with her mother. Jeannie was released prior to being booked when the Beverly Hills police realized that there was no Restraining Order in effect against her.
Several attorneys, known to those in the guardianship reform movement to be aggressive in pursuit of justice in matters involving conservatorship abuse, have been suspended from the practice of law. Arizona JD Grant Goodman and California JD Jim Reiss are two of the more recent legal casualties.
Those concerned about the increasing use of psychiatry as a tool of control by the State are asked to contact Gina Bayless at the State Psychology Board and lodge your concerns. The number for the Board is 916 263-2699. Press 0 to be connected to the receptionist.
At the time of going to press, this reporter was informed that the document filed by the State Psychology Board describing its concerns about Dr. Fettgather was only served on his attorney May 10, a mere four days before his hearing. This document, prepared by clinical psychologist Francis Abueg, was submitted to the Department of Justice on August 3, 2011, nine months before the hearing, and appears to contain a number of inaccuracies, including the allegation that Fettgather never met with Dr. Abueg. In fact, Fettgather and his attorney, Dr. Bruce Ebert, met with Abueg for two hours per Abueg’s request.
A local attorney, speaking on conditions of anonymity, has expressed the concern that such withholding of the specific allegations against Fettgather and only releasing them to his legal team at the eleventh hour might violate his right to due process.
Janet Phelan is an investigative journalist whose articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The San Bernardino County Sentinel, The Santa Monica Daily Press, The Long Beach Press Telegram, Oui Magazine and other regional and national publications. Janet specializes in issues pertaining to legal corruption and addresses the heated subject of adult conservatorship, revealing shocking information about the relationships between courts and shady financial consultants. She also covers issues relating to international bioweapons treaties. Her poetry has been published in Gambit, Libera, Applezaba Review, Nausea One and other magazines. Her first book, The Hitler Poems, was published in 2005. She currently resides abroad. You may browse through her articles (and poetry) at janetphelan.com