Judge Uses Unlicensed Psychologist For Mentally Ill
CREATED Mar 3, 2011 - UPDATED: Mar 3, 2011
By Phil Williams
Chief Investigative Reporter
Chief Investigative Reporter
A NewsChannel 5 investigation has uncovered serious questions about whether a Nashville judge put mentally ill defendants in the care of a man who wasn't licensed to treat them.
The judge and the man that he called "an excellent psychologist" insist they haven't done anything wrong. But, as our investigation discovered, their answers raise even more questions.
General Sessions Judge Dan Eisenstein runs the Davidson County Mental Health Court, a court designed to give troubled offenders a chance to get the help they really need.
"He literally said, 'I am God in this courtroom. You're going to do what I say you're going to do,'" recalled Mental Health Court graduate Jessica Poe.
For Poe, that meant being ordered to take psychiatric medications and working with James Casey, who became her psychologist.
"He was all about talking -- talk therapy -- getting to the root of your issues, why you were behaving or acting out the way you were," Poe said.
But NewsChannel 5 discovered that Casey may have his own issue.
"You're not licensed, are you?" NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked.
He answered, "No, sir."
Under Tennessee law, it's illegal for a person to present himself or let others present him as a "psychologist" -- unless that person is indeed licensed by the state as a psychologist. It's also illegal for them to provide "counseling, psychoanalysis [or] psychotherapy."
"If they are not licensed, then they are not accountable," said Dr. Murphy Thomas, a past president of the Tennessee Psychological Association. Thomas explained that a psychologist's license shows the person has what it takes before he starts tinkering with people's lives.
"I've seen people who have been treated ... in very destructive ways. There was nothing that could be done because they weren't licensed and they weren't qualified. What do you do?"
NewsChannel 5 Investigates attempted to interview Judge Eisenstein, who refused to talk on camera.
"I can't discuss that with you right now," he said.
Through an attorney, Eisenstein claimed he never hired Casey to do the work of a psychologist.
Yet, the judge was all smiles at a ceremony last fall as Poe listed the benefits of Mental Health Court: "One is the relationship I was able to form with a psychologist for the first time in my life, Dr. Casey."
Afterwards, the man she called her "psychologist" could be seen congratulating her on a job well done.
"I don't do any psychiatric care at the mental health court," Casey told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
So why would Poe have said that he was her psychologist?
"I don't know," Casey answered.
In fact, Casey's own resume shows that, in April 2008, he first began working as an "independent contracted clinician" for the court. Among his duties: "facilitate weekly group therapy."
His initial work for the Mental Health Court was done through the non-profit Rochelle Center, where he was employed. Minutes from the Rochelle Center also describe it as a "counseling" program.
But Dr. Thomas said group therapy is something that an individual cannot do unless they are licensed as a mental health professional.
Then, in late 2008, documents show that Judge Eisenstein wanted to put Casey on staff using federal money, writing in a memo that Casey had proven himself "an excellent psychologist." In that same document, the judge noted that Casey had previously "conducted weekly group therapy" for Mental Health Court defendants.
"You told the Department of Justice that he was an excellent psychologist. What gave you that idea?" NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked.
Eisenstein didn't respond.
His lawyer says the judge later learned that Casey wasn't licensed, although he felt that Casey could still be useful in other roles. Casey's contract with the Mental Health Court Foundation -- which began in February 2009 -- is unclear on his exact duties.
But more than a year later, the Mental Health Court Foundation's tax return -- sworn to by the judge himself -- listed Casey as "staff psychologist."
"If you knew that he wasn't licensed, why would you tell the IRS that he was your staff psychologist?" we asked again.
Still, the judge had nothing to say.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Casey, "How can you be treating patients and not be licensed?"
"I'm working under supervision," he answered.
The judge's attorney says Casey did engage in what he called "clinical activities under the supervision of a clinical psychiatrist." A letter from the psychiatrist says he met with Casey "one hour weekly."
But Dr. Thomas, the former president of the Tennessee Psychological Association, said that doesn't count.
"If that individual is saying, well, because I've been supervised by a psychiatrist, I can practice psychology, that's not the case," said Thomas, who added that only the state Board of Examiners in Psychology can authorize a person to practice psychology.
Casey also told NewsChannel 5 Investigates that he worked under the supervision of a Meharry psychologist, but the state says he would still need a temporary or provisional license -- which he does not have.
Confronted about his credentials, Casey said that he "never claimed to be, that I was licensed."
In August 2010, Casey began working under a contract with the Nashville Drug Court Support Foundation with responsibilities to "oversee the joint programs of the Davidson county Mental Health Court and the Davidson County Drug Court (DC4).
That's when he began to bill Metro for "clinical services" and set up his vendor account in the name of "Casey Psychological Services."
Casey's attorney said in a letter to NewsChannel 5 Investigates that "Upon further consideration he decided this was not an appropriate business name for what he had been doing for the Drug Court." The attorney added that Casey "in fact has never collected on any check issued to 'Casey Psychological Services.'"
But NewsChannel 5 Investigates obtained two checks, issued to "Casey Psychological Services," that had been cashed or deposited by Casey. An email obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigates indicates that he stopped using that name because he was "having trouble cashing his checks at the bank."
State law also makes it illegal for an unlicensed person to use the term "psychological" in describing his services.
In September, Casey was named assistant director of treatment for the Davidson County Drug Court. An announcement noted that "he has many years of experience working with clients with psychological disorders as well as substance abuse addiction." On his job application, Casey stated that he was "working towards licensure for TN state under supervision."
Still, Jessica Poe -- who called Casey the "backbone" of the Mental Health Court -- said it doesn't matter to her whether Casey has a license or not.
"Dr. Casey is great at what he does. I don't care if he's not licensed with the state."
But experts say it should matter to Judge Eisenstein -- especially when he's putting mentally ill defendants into that person's hands.
Our investigation discovered that when Casey first began providing counseling services through the Rochelle Center, the non-profit organization's minutes and invoices for his services describe him as "Doctor" Casey -- even though he had not been awarded a doctorate in psychology.
He later got a degree. Still, the state requires tests, background checks and all sorts of other hoops before someone can work as a psychologist.
Casey now has an attorney, who says his client did not think he was doing anything that required a license.