Thank you to the survivors of Psychiatrist William Ayers For Having The Courage To Come Forward!
Note from a friend who wishes to be anonymous:Retired child psychiatrist facing molest charges was never far from controversy
This case reminds me very much of the case of Dr. Rabbi Alan Horowitz and also of the story of Drs. Ralph Underwager and Hollida Wakefield.
By John Coté, Chronicle Staff Writer
San Francisco Chronicle
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
The retired San Mateo child psychiatrist now facing felony child molestation charges advocated in 1968 that sexual education for adolescents be taught in public schools, saying, "ignorance only leads children to subsequent unwise decisions."
Dr. William Ayers' notion was fiercely contested at the time, and he also set off controversy more than a decade later among psychiatric colleagues, who said he defended the practice of giving physical examinations to male patients to gauge their sexual development.
"He said that was the way he was trained," recalled Dr. Hugh Ridlehuber, who was part of the same medical group as Ayres at the time. "I did not know anyone else who had been trained that way. My training was that you do not because it can cause anxiety."
Former colleagues described Ayres as articulate and intelligent, a highly respected psychiatrist with a national reputation. But his genial manner may also have masked a controlling and vindictive side, according to court documents and former patients, something Ayres disputes.
Now, his work has brought him before a San Mateo County Superior Court judge, who is scheduled to determine today whether there is enough evidence to bring the psychiatrist to trial for allegedly molesting former patients in his private, soundproof office under the guise of giving them medical exams.
Ayres, 75, has pleaded not guilty to all 21 counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14. He is charged with molesting seven male patients, ages 8 to 13, between 1988 and 1996.
More than three dozen men have accused Ayres of molesting them dating at least to 1969, although the bulk of those allegations fall outside the statute of limitation for charges, prosecutors said.
Ayres' attorney, Doron Weinberg, has called the accusations "very vague and unsubstantiated," saying the alleged victims were mistakenly remembering things that hadn't happened.
"Suggestions have been made to people about what happened to them 10, 15, 20 years ago, and they have come to believe that they were abused," Weinberg said. "I believe the truth is otherwise." Ayres' examination methods will also be shown to be legitimate, Weinberg said.
The spates of controversy during Ayers' four-decade career didn't slow his professional ascent. He was president of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry from 1993 to 1995 and saw hundreds of adolescent patients referred by the county's juvenile justice system, its court-appointed attorney program, pediatricians and social workers. County officials praised him in 2002 for his "tireless effort to improve the lives of children."
His soft-spoken and personable manner suggested he was a "paragon of caring," said Steve Abrams, a former patient who sued Ayres in December 2003, saying the psychiatrist began molesting him when he was 12. Ayres agreed to pay $395,000 to settle the lawsuit about 11/2 years later, court documents show.
"He set himself up as a benevolent authority figure," Abrams said in a recent interview. "He set up his practice in such a way that he could have his pick of young boys."
Ayres' trademark self-assurance was evident when he chatted calmly with two reporters over a cup of coffee minutes before his arraignment April 11 on felony child molestation charges. He declined to comment about the criminal case, but talked causally about what he termed sensational stories the media latches onto and attitudes toward sex in European countries.
Court documents and interviews suggest a controlling side to the psychiatrist.
Ayres sued his own medical group, Peninsula Psychiatric Associates, in February 2006 after he agreed to pay a confidential settlement in Abrams' lawsuit, alleging the group lost or destroyed Ayres' liability insurance policy covering the years 1977 through 1983.
"My clients - Dr. Ayres' former colleagues - are extremely upset about this lawsuit, and resent having been dragged into this situation," attorney David Levy wrote in a July 2006 letter to Ayres' lawyer. "Dr. Ayres purports on the one hand to be settling his case on behalf of (Peninsula Psychiatric Associates), while now filing this action claiming that (Peninsula Psychiatric Associates) has caused him to incur substantial legal fees because he could not locate his own malpractice insurance policies from nearly 30 years ago."
Ayres dropped the lawsuit against his medical group five months later, court records show.
"It was not in any way directed at any individual member," Ayres said in a recent interview. "The idea was to see if the insurance that covered the corporation covered the problem. It was certainly not intended to be vindictive."
Ayres also unsuccessfully sought to control how Abrams spent the settlement money and allegedly tried to retaliate against a prominent San Francisco psychiatrist who testified for Abrams.
After agreeing to the settlement with Abrams, Ayres sought to influence who was appointed the trustee of the funds and wanted annual reports made to him on how it was spent, "which is the most outrageous demand of all," Abrams' attorney, Jean Starcevich, wrote in court documents. A judge later ruled that the restrictions Ayres sought "cannot be forced upon" Abrams, court documents show.
Ayres recently defended the move, saying, "I wanted the money in the settlement to go toward treatment rather than to go toward the family to use as they wished."
Abrams' lawyers asked Dr. Lynn Ponton, a UCSF psychiatry professor and author of "The Sex Lives of Teenagers," to testify after she interviewed Abrams. Ponton later filed a complaint against Ayres with the medical board, saying she was mandated by law to report allegations of sexual abuse.
Ayres then sought to file a counter-complaint against her with the board, Ponton said.
"I knew that he had attempted to; I don't think he was able to successfully," Ponton said. "I can't think of anything he could have filed for. I think he was saying that he was trying to intimidate me and stop me from talking to the medical board."
Ayres contends he never sought to file a complaint against Ponton. Such complaints are not public unless the medical board decides to formally pursue sanctions against a doctor.
"There was no type of backlash or intimidation," Ayres said. "She's free to give her professional opinion."
The Rev. A. Murray Goodwin, an Episcopalian minister and Ayres' close friend in high school and later in Boston when Ayres was completing his child psychiatric residency training, believes the allegations against Ayres are fabricated.
"Bill is a very fine person," said Goodwin, 75. "I don't believe it's anything more than money, money, money."
Ayres, who is married and has an adult son and an adult daughter, said he has been driven by science since his youth, partly the result of being raised by a father who was a devout Episcopalian and an electrical engineering professor at Ohio State University.
Ayres said a sense of furthering scientific understanding was behind his decision to help write and co-narrate a 15-part series on family life and sexual education called "Time of Your Life" that was shown on KQED and other public television stations in 1968. The program, intended for fourth- through sixth-graders, was also offered to public schools.
The series set off controversy at the time, including lawsuits in California and Hawaii, and was vigorously opposed by some parents and religious groups.
"This was a very bad, bad program for the kids," said Geri McDonough, 76, who was part of a group called Mothers Support Neighborhood Schools, which also opposed the busing program implemented to desegregate schools. "It was sinister to take little kids through this whole thing on intercourse. It was against our values. We wanted to teach our own kids the facts of life."
"I was not aware of the opposition, and I was very much aware of what I felt was the need for adequate sex education that had to deal with the scientific facts," Ayres said. "I know it's a joke now, but people were saying that babies are found under cabbage leaves and brought by the stork and all that sort of thing. People weren't even being honest about the obvious. I thought those sorts of things are not helpful to kids who are trying to understand the world."