NCRJ Amicus Letter to California Supreme Court
The subject of the case study was a woman named Nicole Taus, who was always referred to by Loftus and Guyer as “Jane Doe.” Nevertheless, Taus launched a lawsuit against Loftus, Guyer, Tavris, and SI, claiming invasion of privacy and defamation of character.
The California Court of Appeals, while throwing out some of the charges, most unfortunately decided to let the lawsuit proceed. Lawyers for the defendants are petitioning the California Supreme Court to review this decision in hopes that they will do the right thing and throw out the lawsuit.
These lawyers requested that the NCRJ submit an Amicus letter asking the Court to hear the Petition. Here is the letter, which was written by Michael J. Snedeker, President of the NCRJ.
The National Center for Reason and Justice
Boston MA 02123-0414
May 29, 2995
Honorable Ronald M. George, Chief Justice
And Associate Justices
Of the California Supreme Court
350 McAllister Street
San Francisco CA 94102-4797
Re: Nicole Taus vs. Elizabeth Loftus, et al.
(1st D.C.A. Civ No. A104689, Solano County
Superior Court No. FCS02A557).
Dear Chief Justice George and Associate Justices:
As President of the National Center for Reason and Justice – an educational and advocacy group concerned about the plight of the falsely accused and wrongfully convicted – I am writing pursuant to California Rules of Court, rule 28(g), to ask that you accept the Petition for Review that has been filed in the above-entitled case. Our organization comprises lawyers, scientists, authors, and concerned citizens. The Internal Revenue Service has determined that the NCRJ is exempt from federal income tax as an organization described in section 501(c)(3). We are a registered public charity in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Statement of Interest
As advocates for justice, we have a deep and abiding interest in assuring that only reliable evidence be admitted at criminal trials. Justice will likely miscarry if unverified or discredited scientific theories are presented to juries as proven and accepted within the relevant disciplines. Junk science has no place in the courtroom. We have a particular interest in the theory of massively repressed memory of traumatic events because there are people in prison – some serving at least de facto life sentences – who were convicted on the basis of testimony derived from uncorroborated traumatic memories that allegedly had been repressed for many years. If the theory of massive repression is invalid, then these unfortunate people did not receive due process of law because their convictions were based on unreliable evidence. It is thus a fundamental concern of ours that the scientific investigation of memory proceed unfettered. Unfortunately, one side of this debate has long sought to prevail not by submitting its ideas and research to the crucible of peer review and public opinion, but by intimidating the other side.
In 1995, the galleys of a book I co-authored with Debbie Nathan (Satan’s Silence, Basic Books, New York: 1995) were circulated prior to publication and seen by people connected with the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC). This organization was founded in part by David Corwin. It publishes the journal Child Maltreatment, which ran the article by Dr. Corwin that was the subject of Dr. Loftus and Dr. Guyer’s critical scrutiny. After seeing the galleys of my and Ms. Nathan’s book, these people asked the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) to hold a meeting in which they proposed that a law be passed making it illegal for journalists to publish even short segments of child interviews in sex abuse cases, even if the children were rendered anonymous, and even if the interviews were in public court records because they’d constituted evidence in criminal trials. The meeting occurred, but the DOJ refused to support such a law. Subsequently, Children’s Institute International, the Los Angeles organization that developed the infamous McMartin pre-school sex abuse case and where Dr. Corwin worked in the early 1980s, threatened Basic Books with an injunction. Basic Books refused to comply with their demand, and our book proceeded on schedule. In the same year, however, the American Psychological Association was also threatened with a lawsuit if it published Jeopardy in the Courtroom by Steven Ceci and Maggie Bruck, since the book would also have excerpts from child interviews in criminal cases. This threat held up publication for several months.
The reason for this effort to block verbatim presentation of children’s interviews – many of which were done by APSAC members like David Corwin – is evident once the interview transcripts are seen. It would be impossible to convey just how overbearing, coercive, and leading was the questioning of very young people without seeing it for oneself. Although these efforts at suppression were unsuccessful they were worrisome, and in the case of Jeopardy in the Courtroom succeeded in blocking for a significant amount of time the publication of what is widely regarded as a key text on children in the courtroom. The ostensible reason for keeping the verbatim texts from appearing was to protect the young children themselves. The real reason was to protect the professionals whose abusive methods were thereby exposed.
The “chilling effect” is very real, particularly in the social sciences. When a scientist weighs which of multiple fields of inquiry he or she should research, the fact that one is in an area likely to provoke trouble – i.e., a lawsuit – can easily tilt the balance towards another not freighted with this burden. As the Court of Appeals decision notes about this case, it is well known throughout the United States. We have read the decision, and believe that if this lawsuit goes forward – regardless of the outcome – a lasting chilling effect would be felt by anyone researching children’s cognitive psychology and emotional life. Science demands that case histories offered as anecdotes to support a theory be evaluated and tested. Preventing or discouraging evaluation by others invites error – error that not only distorts the search for truth, but that also leads to wrongful convictions in criminal cases, and unwarranted liability in civil cases.
Drs. Loftus and Tavris are members of the Advisory Board of our organization. Advisors do not take part in making decisions. Their association with us in no way affected our position on the Petition and they did not participate in preparing this letter.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Michael J. Snedeker, Esq.
President, National Center for Reason and Justice
cc: Parties listed on Proof of Service