[Note: Some names and details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals, especially the victims.]
There is no justice except that for which you are willing to fight. There is no freedom except that which you claim as your own, and for which you are willing to suffer and fight. There is no unalienable right except that which you can articulate, and, with others, arrive at a consensus on its value and utility. Justice is not a reality, external to the human condition, that acts upon this world, its institutions, and its inhabitants; Nor is justice a cosmic balance sheet that compensates for our losses in the world we experience by allocating credits that are redeemable upon our death. Waiting for justice to be dispensed can be a wait for an eternity. You have to seek it, fight for it, persevere, and hope there might be some measure of fairness in the end. You have to pick your fights carefully. Sometimes you find justice and feel vindicated; You may find an incomplete measure of justice and wonder if it was worth the fight; There are times when the bad guys win and you're fucked. This makes the human condition, to some extent, tragic. This can also make the human condition redemptive, if in the search for justice, regardless of the outcome, we learn important lessons about ourselves, our institutions, and the world around us.
The Case of the Predator Psychiatrist
Nathan Kossik phoned me and asked if he could come over that evening. He said he had a very serious problem, he needed to talk to me, and could use my help and advice. He didn't want to discuss anything over the phone. I told him to come over after my kids were in bed. Nate was my neighbor and one of my best friends. We both went to graduate school, married, and started a family. Nate was an aspiring architect and in his second year at a local architectural firm. His wife Gertrude did not work outside the home for pay, at that time. Gerti was pursuing a nursing degree, part-time, at a local community college.
Nate came to my house alone. I had assumed he would come with his wife, Gerti. It's hard to describe his state except to say that he was very, very upset. He was devastated, heartbroken, angry, very concerned about his two children, and worried sick over his wife. Nate and Gerti were both in psychotherapy with the same psychiatrist, Dr. Joseph R. Dorsey, of Hopewell Junction, NY. They started together in marriage counseling, but they stopped seeing Dr. Dorsey as a couple. Instead they continued with separate individual appointments. This went on for two and one-half years. Nate and Gerti came from dysfunctional working class families. They were striving for a normal, middle class life through education and pursuing decent professional jobs. Nate and Gerti had two beautiful children who were school mates and regular play mates with my own kids. Some time before, Nate confided to me that his wife's father was an abusive alcoholic, who terrorized his family and sexually abused Gerti as a child. Gerti was also sexually abused by her neighbor. She had been diagnosed by a psychiatrist about 5 years earlier as having severe mental problems. The only thing Nate remembered about the diagnosis was that it included the phrase 'schizoid tendencies'.
It was the mid 1970s. I finished all my course work for my psychology doctoral program, but I was still working on my thesis research. Friends and family thought of me as the local shrink who could listen to their problems and dispense free psychological advice, analysis, and counseling, whether I was qualified or not. Usually, I listened, asked some questions, and then referred them to someone whom I felt was competent to handle their needs. I was, principally, a research psychologist and generalist working in the personnel department at IBM in Fishkill, NY. I did a limited amount of educational, vocational, and adjustment counseling under the supervision of my boss, Royal Joslin Haskell, Ph.D., a diplomate in clinical psychology. I knew Joe Dorsey, met him frequently at professional events in the mid-Hudson Valley, and consulted with him concerning employees who were referred to him on matters of vocational and psychological adjustment in the workplace.
What Nate told me made my heart sink, and gave me a sick feeling in my stomach. I didn't realize it till much later, but it made me very angry to the point of rage. In tears he told me that Gerti had been having sex with her psychiatrist, Joe Dorsey, for nearly the entire length of time she was seeing him for individual therapy sessions. During this time, Nate was seeing Dorsey for his own weekly therapy. I thought the revelations would stop there. They didn't. Shortly after Gerti started her weekly sessions of sex-laced therapy with Dorsey, she told her girl friend, Janice Wines, and invited her to see Dorsey for her own psychotherapy. Jan was recently divorced with custody of two young children. Eventually, they carried on a bizarre 'menage a trois' for almost two years. Outside of the therapy sessions, Gerti and Jan were secret lovers. Nate was in tears for a good deal of the time he was relating this awful and bizarre story. My heart was going out to him. I would have found the narrative hard to believe, except that Gerti had confessed everything to Nate. Gerti had become more and more mentally unstable over the past year. Eventually she confided in her sister, Ellen, a professional social worker. Ellen advised her that she had to stop her sessions, immediately, and that she had to tell Nate, who was still a patient of Dr. Dorsey.
I sat down on the couch next to Nate. I put my arm around him and tried to comfort him. I told him that Elizabeth and I would do all we could to help him and his family. Liz stayed a discrete distance from the living room where I was meeting with Nate, but eventually came in and offered him some support and consoling. You might think that Nate would be furious with Gerti. Instead, he was afraid she would have a complete mental breakdown, and that it would also have a devastating effect on his children. He was most concerned about keeping his family together and taking care of his wife and children. He felt he couldn't confide in his own family given his parents' history of mental illness and dysfunction. He believed they would be interested only to the extent that they could get in on the dirt and the sordid details. Liz and I met his family a couple of times. If anything, he understated their mental disorders and the toxicity of their personalities. He said he didn't know what to do, and didn't have anyone else to whom he could turn for help. “What should I do?”, he asked. “How am I going to take care of my family? What's going to happen to Gerti? I'm afraid of what may happen to her. What am I going to do about that fucking bastard, Dorsey? I want to kill that son of bitch.”
Something has to be done
I told him that the first thing he needed to do was to see a competent, ethical therapist – one who worked closely with a physician so that they could monitor his and Gerti's mental and physical wellbeing. I referred him to Dr. Dan Williams, a psychotherapist and counselor, who worked closely with Richard Ballman, MD. Ballman was the president of the mid-Hudson Valley Medical Association and could be helpful concerning disciplinary action against Dorsey. Nate and Gerti took my advice, immediately, and made an appointment with Dan Williams. Williams and Ballman were able to keep Nate and Gerti sufficiently stable so that they could continue with their responsibilities toward each other, their children, school and work. The next thing Nate had to do was get an attorney who understood matters of professional ethics and discipline. I got in touch with the New York State Psychological Association to find out who handled their legal matters. They used a well connected Manhattan law firm and gave me the phone number of the principal partner, Willard Marino. Neither Nate nor Gerti were in any position to navigate through institutions and the people to seek disciplinary action against Dorsey. They asked me to make the calls, set up appointments, walk them through the process, and accompany them to their meetings. Of course, I said I would do whatever I could.
Our first meeting was with Dr. Ballman, the president of the mid-Hudson Valley Medical Association. He encouraged Nate (Gerti was not present) to file a complaint against Dorsey with his organization. We wanted to know what would happen to Dorsey. Ballman tried to assure us by relating a recent disciplinary action handle by them. It seems one of the local physicians had been engaging in some shady billing practices. Charges were filed against him, an investigation was done, and a nasty letter was sent to the offending doctor. As a result, the bad doctor sold his practice, left the area, and set up a practice in another state. Ballman was very pleased with himself and proud to tell us about how they dealt with the unethical doctor by running him out of town. Neither Nate or I were impressed with how Ballman and his organization disciplined their own doctors. He was not referred to the New York State Education Department, the licensing agency for physicians. Nor did they report him to the police or the Dutchess County Attorney for possible criminal violations. Instead they let him relocate the base of operations to another state for his unethical billing practices. I didn't want to tell Nate what to do. The decision had to be his. He didn't see much opportunity for justice with the local medical association.
The Bomb Shell
I arranged a meeting with the attorney Willard Marino. Again, I accompanied Nate and Gerti. This time, Janice Wines was with us. Jan realized she was also a victim of Dorsey's predation. It seemed a bit bizarre to have Nate, Gerti, and Jan together. However, they were all victims and I was the only one they could trust to point them in the right direction. Marino invited his chief civil litigator, Robert Cohen, to join the meeting. I sat in on most of the discussions about who, what, when, where, and why. We had two or three lengthy meetings. Nate, Gerti, and Jan signed separate contingency agreements with Marino to pursue action against Dorsey. In between the meetings Marino and Cohen did their own research on Dr. Joseph Dorsey. What they uncovered was a bombshell. Dorsey had a private psychiatric practice for 20 years in New York City, before relocating to Hopewell Junction, NY, in Dutchess County. During those 20 years, he engaged in the same predatory behavior leading to sex with his patients. Too, he was a pioneer in the civil rights struggles in New York City. The following is from The New York Times, published December 9, 1946:
“IN NEW PROBATION POST
“Joseph R. Dorsey to Be Sworn
as Assistant Deputy Chief
“Joseph R. Dorsey, attached to
the Probation Department since
1936, will be sworn in today at 9
A. M. in the Court of General Ses-
sions as an assistant deputy chief
Probation officer. Mr. Dorsey will
be the first Negro to hold that
“Born in Omaha, Neb., Mr. Dor-
sey, who lives at 7 West 108th
Street, was graduated from West-
ern Reserve University. For two
years he was with the State Divi-
sion of Parole.
“He spent five years in the Army
and served as a captain in the
South Pacific. At the time of this
discharge last year he was with
the Transportation Corps as as-
aistant to the Commanding Gen-
eral of the San Francisco Port of
Copyright © The New York Times
Joe Dorsey was one of the principles in the legal fight to desegregate housing in New York City. There was a series of cases and appeals that were prepared and argued by the NAACP, the ACLU, the City-Wide Citizens Committee for Harlem, and the American Jewish Congress. The plaintiffs were Joseph R. Dorsey, Monroe Dowling, and Calvin Harper, three African-American veterans of WWII. [Dorsey v. Stuyvesant Town Corp., 299 N.Y. 512 (1949).] Thurgood Marshall, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice and director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, was one of the writers of the brief that went to the New York State Court of Appeals. The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, owner of the Stuyvesant Town Corp., prevailed in that case.
Eventually, Dorsey was proposed for a job as a Deputy Commissioner in New York. It was very likely he would get the appointment. That promotion, raise in pay, and greater prestige never happened. It was discovered that he was having sex with his patients and had been doing so for 20 years. He was forced to quit his government employment and leave New York City. He relocated to Hopewell Junction, NY, in the Town of Fishkill. Just like the unethical doctor with fraudulent billing practices, Dorsey was 'run out of town' so he could set up shop elsewhere, and resume preying on vulnerable women. Instead of dispensing healing, he proffered abuse.
A Plan Is Hatched
Marino put us in touch with an investigator from the New York State Department of Education. We had several meetings with one of the senior investigators, John Froman. He was very encouraging. The law was recently changed to facilitate the investigation and prosecution of charges against doctors. The new process was supposed to be more efficient than in the past. The intent of the state legislators was to deal with medical malpractice in a more timely and predictable manner. This case would be one of the first to be handled under the new law. Later we would find out that the new process was no more efficient or streamlined than the old process. We discussed the fact that Dorsey was a hero in the civil rights struggles of the 1940s and 1950s. We had no idea how that would affect the outcome of the case. Froman said he would put an African-American on the review board that will determine the final disposition of the case. He wanted to blunt any future charges of racism. Froman arranged to take comprehensive statements from Nate, Gerti, and Jan. Each was filing a separate complaint. Froman was candid with us and said it would be good if he could interview other victims who were not associated with Jan and the Kossiks. I knew of a couple of woman (not through any professional relationships) who had been Dorsey's patients. In confidence, and guaranteed anonymity for myself, I gave him the names, though I had no idea if any were victims.
We had another meeting with Marino and Cohen. Bob Cohen, the litigator, did an analysis of the case and gave us a great lecture on the principles and practices of tort law. I still remember how his thought process was a display of the critical scholarship of Rabbinic Judaism. It was a wonderful tutorial on the law, and I could have listened to him all day. The civil case came down to this: The medical malpractice insurance company will offer, initially, an insulting and demoralizing sum of about $1,200, and hope the plaintiffs will go away. Assuming the plaintiffs don't take the money and run, the insurance lawyers will do everything possible to beat the shit out of them, and destroy any credibility they may have. They will argue that the plaintiffs were crazy in the first place, as demonstrated by the fact that they sought psychiatric help. They will present Dorsey as the victim, and the plaintiffs as a trio of psychotic nut jobs and liars. This is a gladiatorial contest among lawyers, Cohen told us, and not a process to determine truth and dispense justice. Our legal system does not guarantee justice. Rather, it offers an arena for a fight, a contest among mercenary knights (lawyers), where the judges and the law try to keep the rules of battle as fair as possible.
Finishing his analysis and presentation, Cohen deferred to Marino. Marino was direct and sobering. He wanted to find other women who were recently victimized by Dorsey. I told him about our discussion with Froman and that I gave him a couple of names to pursue. Marino didn't seem hopeful that it would yield anything for the cases at hand. Then he started prodding us with some ideas that we had not considered before. He wanted to know if there might be any physical or corroborating evidence. Had he ever said anything to a third party? Did he order in food or drink while Gerti or Jan were there? Did he take them to dinner and pay by credit card? Is there a chance they could go back to Dorsey, engage him in a discussion and get him to make incriminating statements and record them on tape? Marino pushed them on the possibility of secretly recording Dorsey. Neither Nate, Gerti, nor Jan was mentally or emotionally up to the ploy. At that moment I spoke up. “I can do it,” I said. “I can go see that son of a bitch and try to get him to talk.”
Tune in for Part 2, Monday, May 25, 2009.
In the second and final chapter of “The Case of the Predator Psychiatrist”, I will describe how the how the events unfolded, what kind of justice was obtained for the victims, and what kind of justice was delivered upon Joseph R. Dorsey, M.D. I caution my readers not to make any assumptions.