December 4, 2009

Record-breaking fee for competency report?

Forensic psychologists: If someone ever complains about your bill, you might want to share this little factoid:

A psychiatrist's competency report in the Brian David Mitchell case (Elizabeth Smart kidnapping in Utah) cost a whopping half million dollars.

And that was just for the report. It doesn't include the cost of expert testimony at Mitchell's competency hearing, currently in progress. And, believe it or not, that was the discounted rate.

Granted, Michael Welner's report was 206 pages long, and took 1,000 hours to produce. That makes the hourly fee $500, not inordinately high for a prominent forensic psychiatrist. But 1,000 hours is an awful lot of time to devote to any one case.

In testimony today, the prosecution's expert testified that in addition to evaluating Mitchell, he also did research on polygamy, the Mormon church, and related issues of revelation, prophets and Joseph Smith.

His bottom-line conclusion: Mitchell was motivated more by lust than religion or psychosis.

If anyone knows of a higher fee for a forensic report, or even a fee that comes close to this one, please let me know and I'll post your response.

Desert News coverage is HERE. An interesting commentary on Welner's controversial role -- and his fee -- in Andrea Yates' sanity trial is HERE. For more background on both Welner (author of the "Depravity Scale") and the Mitchell competency hearing, see my Sept. 1 post.


forensic said...

It seems to me that crim defense psychologists, like the attorneys who hire them, are obsessed with how much money state/gov witnesses make. As if being paid for one's work is somehow dishonest. And crim defense experts always do God's work (for a fee, of course).

I'll assume you charge for your work?

You should let your readers know that the indigent defense funds in big cases (especially capital) are very well-funded. Defense forensic psycholgoists/spcyhiatrist make a good living billing these funds, which are --without limit--. Welners involvement is only unusual in one regard: Government witnesses are usually budgeted in advance, but the defense experts are not.

Its like they teach in law school: If you have the law, pound that. If you have the facts, pound that. If you have nothing, pound the table. Complaining about expert fees again and again is pounding the table.

Who cares what the top fees are? This is burning envy, not serious forensic psychology. How about discussing the content of his ideas rather than a casually dismissive single line? The nature of CST evaluations?

Dave said...

Would this guy had done a 200 page report (essentially writing a biography!) for a non-high profile kidnapping case? Would he have done this for much less money? I can't imagine writing such a lengthy assesement let alone reading one. In order to answer the question "is Mitchell competent or not?" you simply do not need such an extensive assessment. You only need to assess if he can assist counsel and if he understands the nature of the charges against him (Dusky v. U.S.). In addition to this, compentency is theoretically a changing condition as one's mental status changes and as the client is subjected to "competency restoration" interventions. Why all the expense of time and money to assess a condition that is only possibly temporary? What about his next competency hearing? Is another 200 page report in order? Basically, if there is someone willing to pay the fee and someone willing to take the time and effort to write the report, I don't have a moral issue with it. It just seems excessive and unnecessary.

BTW, I used to work at the Utah State Hospital where Mitchell is now residing).