Comments from the Online Public Ballot for the Hearing of Dr. Richard Wollert v. The Seattle Times

Please see also the Summary Results of Online Public Voting for this complaint hearing. All other information about this hearing can be found here.

These comments were added to the online ballot that was open to the public from June 1-16, 2013. The ballot asked for a name, email address and affiliation. Some individuals did not include an affiliation.

Fairness and accuracy should be fundamental to all news reporting. There should be no room for sensationalism for the sole purpose of selling news stories. I am aware of no reporting that attempted to provide information regarding the funding of prosecutors, or the payment to state experts involved in similar work. The Seattle times should be ashamed and the general public should take notice. – Craig Rypma, psychologist

Like the Council members, I was disturbed by the Times’ refusal to participate — especially since they criticized Dr. Wollert for not granting an interview. I think it is very problematic to insist that subjects always agree to an interview (or lose their right to protest), in situations in which they may have information that the reporter is agenda-driven and that the story is a hit piece, and that their words will be unfairly twisted. Journalists have a lot of power to slant the news based on their personal biases. It is incumbent on journalists to resist confirmatory bias. For example in this case, although Dr. Wollert was earning a lot of money from these cases, experts on the other side were too. SVP laws are expensive, and are contributing to the bankrupting of the 20 states who have them. But the solution is not necessarily to deny respondents who are facing lifelong involuntary detention the right to a vigorous defense. – Karen Franklin, forensic psychologist

The Times’ article was blatantly biased and included a large number of unsubstantiated accusations with no sign whatever that it was interested in being objective much less balanced. – Robert L. Halon, Ph.D., private practice

I am consistently amazed at how reporters allow themselves to simply be spokespersons for prosecutors. What happened to real investigating reporting? – John Fennel, attorney

The Seattle Times article was clearly biased. The fact that I am aware of this in Queensland, Australia, says something about the spread of what was malicious drivel. Why, for example, was there no mention of the fees that state-appointed experts charge to assist the prosecution? The state pays experts they retain at least the same amount as the remuneration afforded to those appointed by the courts to advise the defence in civil commitment hearings. Often they are paid more. The Price of Justice is, in fact, driven by the state. – Prof. Ian R. Coyle, Queensland, Australia

Willmsen did the same type of one-sided, irresponsible reporting when writing about my company — on three occasions. She flat out lied in one instance, but generally reported only one side of the story. Not surprised to see Dr. Wollert alleging the same. And not at all surprised that she didn’t show. Tells you something about her and her employer.

– Kerry Paulson, Hanbleceya Treatment Center

Story was fair, and this kangaroo court is a farce. – Bill Hogan

I have been involved with this law in California almost to its inception. In addition to writing for the Continuing Education For The Bar (CEB), I moderate a national online group made up of lawyers and mental health experts who deal with these type of cases. I have attended presentations to the California sex offender evaluators panel that opine concerning whether or nor SVP’s should be retained after they have paid their debt to society. Many of my clients present with anger over this situation, though not without justification. Frequently every move they make is charted. This is sometimes for the purpose of identifying additional paraphilic behavior to keep the person in the hospital. Although Rich Wollert frequently uses 100 words when one will do, this is an affection that is just part of his personality. The bottom line is that any pro-prosecution individual want loaded dice, marked cards or any other perceived advantage in this business. While not always agreeing with Dr. Wollert’s conclusions and ideas I can vouch the fact in, because if I am going to present the material in court, I am responsible to the courts for the data I present, not my expert. While not meaning to sound paranoid, the attacks on Dr. Wollert, Dr. Donaldson and Dr. Abbott are little more than an out-of-court attempt to cast a cloud upon our more scientifically minded experts with the ultimate expected result of causing the defense to loose quality, well trained experts who have managed to successfully assist counsel in humanizing the client who normally attacks the client as a sexual monster. – Michael J. Aye, author on sexually violent predator laws

Shame on The Seattle TImes for trying to hoist yellow journalism on an uninformed, frightened public. Too bad someone of Richard Wollert’s stature had to endure this nonsense but at least he responded with science’s best weapon: facts. – Jeffrey C. Singer, psychologist

The “Price of Protection” series was not an objective piece of journalism. It was political commentary that, if it belonged anywhere in the newspaper, belonged on the editorial page as an opinion piece. It was riddled with misinformation and bias. Its one-sidedness was a sad commentary on the type of agenda-driven commentary that today masquerades as “journalism,” and explains why newspapers like The Seattle Times are declining into extinction. The Seattle Times owes Dr. Wollert and its readers a major apology for this biased series. It should give Dr. Wollert a full opportunity to correct the misinformation spewed by the series. – Thomas K. Zander, clinical and forensic psychologist

I followed this issue with interest since I am a psychologist and also have journalism training and experience. The Times coverage of Dr. Wollert was clearly biased by the reporter’s pro-prosecution agenda. Her bias was reflected by the focus of her work (i.e., to establish Dr. Wollert as a charlatan rather than providing balanced, objective news coverage of what goes on behind the scenes in these cases). Her biased perspective subsequently affected her choice of those she spoke to, the kinds of questions she asked of those individuals, her interpretation of the records she read, and her conclusions. In short, this reporter’s work was bad journalism, and The TImes’ support of the reporter’s work was self-serving. – Natalie Brown, University of Washington Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine

The Seattle Times series was absolutely biased and one-sided. The reporter did not check facts and did not comment at all about the costs incurred by the AG’s and King County prosecutors, who paid some of their experts far more than Dr. Wollert ever billed for his work on these cases. – Karen Lundahl, attorney, Pierce County Department of Assigned Counsel

I was appalled by the Times and the reporter’s pushing their own sensationalist agenda in the series and specifically as to Wollert. And, I am disturbed by the panel’s conclusion that Wollert shot himself in the foot by not granting the reporter an interview — that in no way justifies biased, inaccurate treatment. What’s more, no person, whether they be a part of the media or not, have the right to insist on access to another person’s cooperation in providing information. Wollert was right to decline an interview because the reporter had already demonstrated her bias; it’s common sense to know that biased persons will twist one’s words, and Wollert would have no way to prove what he said or did not say. Shame on the panel for suggesting he was at any way at fault for declining the interview! – Karen Steele

I’m concerned that witnesses who consistently testify for the prosecution are viewed differently and more positively than those who primarily testify for the defense. Neither side has a lock on the truth and to suggest otherwise is disingenuous. Focusing on one side of the argument, as was done by the Times, is a disservice to the community.

– Kevin Krieg

Thanks for getting the truth to the public. This has been a difficult year for our family.

– Zachary Wollert

I thought your story about Dr. Wollert was not balanced. It looked like it was agenda driven and very shallow in its analysis. I have represented individuals in SVP cases and have employed Dr. Wollert.

On one occasion, after his evaluation, Dr. Wollert called to say he would not be helpful in this matter. Frankly, that is the response of a professional with integrity. Those incidences will never be found in the record, but reflect strongly on Dr. Wollert. If the reporter had spoken to defense attorneys that employed Dr. Wollert, she would have gotten a very different perspective.

Lastly, this is a very difficult field for a reporter to write about. Without any background or understanding of the field, it is easy to get misled. Alternatively, it is easy to mislead your readers if your agenda is to complain about the costs involved in these cases.

We do not have the ability to predict an individual’s future behavior and the experts in the field disagree widely on what are the important factors when considering the likelihood to reoffend. Dr. Wollert is well within the admittedly wide boundaries of the profession. Yet the article presented him otherwise.

No one likes spending money on people accused of sexual crimes. So it is easy to target those who are making a living working for their defense. Practicing criminal defense, I often run into that attitude. Nobody likes what I do, until they are accused of a crime. Then they want the best defense they can get. And they consider it money well spent. Ironically, criminal defense lawyers are the only profession required under the United States Constitution. If you are going to lock up a person for life, we need to pay the cost of his defense if we are to have any sense of fairness in our society. In the future, I hope the coverage will be more balanced. – Harry S. Steinmetz, Defense Bar