BANGOR — The credibility of a former family counselor — who erroneously diagnosed a case of sexual abuse — continued to crumble in federal court Tuesday.
During the second day of Peter Murray’s civil malpractice lawsuit against Judith Osting, testimony focused on inaccuracies and inconsistencies by the former therapist.
Osting, now a nurse in Arizona, reported four years ago that Murray sexually abused his two daughters, then ages 3 and 5. The allegations, raised in the summer of 1991, soured Murray’s relationship with the girls in the wake of a bitter divorce, and weren’t overwhelmingly challenged until the spring of 1993.
Although Murray and his ex-wife, Barbara, still don’t get along, both have since filed separate malpractice claims against Osting.
On Tuesday, Peter Murray’s attorney, Barry Mills, continued to make his case by echoing earlier testimony that Osting exaggerated her resume and credentials. Mills and plaintiff witnesses also began to support claims that Osting fabricated some of the records involving the Murray case.
During cross-examinations, Osting’s attorney, Philip Coffin, returned to his own defense themes — that Murray was an alcoholic, and that Osting had evidence to support her suspicions of abuse.
Under questioning from Coffin, Murray acknowledged he didn’t disagree with Osting reporting her concerns to the Department of Human Services, which is required by law. But Murray criticized a second report issued by Osting after other psychologists reported no abuse had occurred.
“There’s nothing in that report that’s true, is that what you’re saying?” Coffin asked.
“I’m saying it’s a piece of garbage,” Murray replied.
Perhaps the two most bizarre hours of the trial came when Osting’s deposition, taken in July 1994, was read into the record by Mills’ secretary.
Under questioning from Mills a year ago, Osting insisted her resume was true, including a master’s degree that Coffin now acknowledges does not exist.
When asked why she listed her practice as “Recovering Youth Services, Inc.” when it wasn’t actually incorporated, Osting replied, “Because it looks good on paper, I guess.
“I didn’t do it to mislead anyone,” she added.
Osting also acknowledged that some of the girls’ symptoms that led her to suspect abuse — including bed wetting and temper tantrums — could have been caused by other factors.
At one point, when Mills challenged Osting’s allegation that Peter Murray sexually abused the girls, he asked, “What qualifications do you have to be judge and jury?”
“I believe with the information I had, I had a right to say what I did,” Osting replied.
But her report to DHS also came under fire Tuesday from the deposition and during live testimony.
Besides incorrectly listing the date she called DHS, Osting also inaccurately portrayed the responses of the DHS caseworker and physicians involved, testimony alleged.
When she first called DHS in July 1991, Osting said she was told that the girls would have to make a verbal statement about the abuse before the department could intervene. Later, however, the DHS intake worker who dealt with Osting, Frank Southard, denied he ever told her that.
Nevertheless, Osting did not call DHS when one of the girls reportedly did say something suspicious about her father during therapy.
Asked why she didn’t call DHS then, Osting replied, “Because I didn’t think I’d get any action out of them.”
“How can DHS refuse to act when you don’t make a mandatory report?” Mills asked.
“They can’t act on what they don’t know, that’s true,” Osting replied.
And when Barbara Murray and Osting applied for a petition to sever Peter Murray’s visitation rights, Osting wrote that the case was under DHS investigation. This, Southard said Tuesday, was not so.
At this time, Barbara Murray, who herself was sexually abused as a young child, became convinced that her ex-husband had abused the girls.
It wasn’t until after a second evaluation, issued in the spring of 1993, that Murray came to believe Peter was innocent. Until then, she said on the stand Tuesday, she believed in Osting’s ability to treat the children.
“In hindsight, I can see that’s not true,” she said.