CANTON — An expert witness who offered psychological evaluations in St. Lawrence County Family Court, and whose advice influenced the outcome of court decisions, is not licensed in psychology, despite testifying the opposite.
According to testimony in a recent Family Court case, Thomas E. Doyle claims to have been a licensed psychologist in New York state since 2006.
“Yeah, that was a mistake,” Mr. Doyle said Saturday at his Rensselaer Falls home.
He said the testimony likely occurred on March 15 this year.
In person, he confirmed that he is not, nor has he ever been, a licensed psychologist.
He said he testifies before the court as an expert psychological witness about five or six times a year, and that he’s conducted “well over a thousand” psychological evaluations for Family Court and the Department of Social Services since 2012.
He said he’s currently on medical leave, but anticipates returning to court later this month, adding that it will be up to the judge to determine whether he will be allowed to be proffered as an expert.
“If there is a controversy, and it ends up that the county has to make a decision whether I testify as an expert witness in the future, then I will accept that obviously,” he said.
He said he is a licensed mental health counselor, and that mental health counseling and psychology are “very interchangeable.”
“I understand licenses and scope of practice are slightly different, but being trained as a psychologist gives me a good advantage in the mental health counseling field, and I think that can be confusing,” he said.
During testimony from the spring court case, Mr. Doyle confirmed he’s testified as an expert witness “at least several hundred” times.
He also confirmed under oath to have undertaken “well over a thousand” examinations on behalf of the DSS and other parties.
According to documents obtained by the Times from the state Education Department under the Freedom of Information Law, Mr. Doyle is not licensed to practice psychology in New York.
“Thomas Edward Doyle is not licensed in psychology, with the Office of the Professions, State Education Department,” the document states.
It is signed by Sandra Barsallo, education credential specialist I with the Education Department. She attested that her office completed “a diligent search” of records.
“I’m pretty well convinced he may have perjured himself after researching the matter,” said Benjamin G. Johns, an attorney who works with St. Lawrence County Family Court. “Mr. Doyle has been presenting himself as a licensed clinical psychologist, and (DSS) has been relying on him for years to do assessments.”
“They put an awful lot of weight on reports from mental health clinicians, and for a very long time he was the guy,” he added.
“The reason I’m upset about it,” Mr. Johns said, “is largely due to how his analysis of patients tends to be higher-needs patients with significant problems, and they think they’re getting an analysis by a certain type of professional, but they’re not, and I find that very troublesome.”
According to a copy of Mr. Doyle’s curriculum vitae, he claims to have received a doctorate in human behavior from Newport University School of Behavioral Sciences in Newport Beach, California, in 1994. The online institution is not accredited by any agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Eduction, according to its accreditation database.
“Employment and experience” listed on his CV includes work as a “psychologist and lead therapist” for inpatient children and youth services at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center in Ogdensburg from 2000 to 2011. Prior to that, the full page of various mental health counseling roles lists work as a “forensic mental health team psychologist” at Binghamton Psychiatric Center from 1998 to 2000.
His affiliation with St. Lawrence County Family Court and DSS appears on his CV as “part-time mental health consultant” since 2012. He also lists himself as a “part-time psychology consultant” to the Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center adult inpatient psychiatric unit since 2011.
“It’s almost hard to wrap your mind around the fact that this is even a possibility,” Mr. Johns said. “I think a lot of that is due to the fact that we’re not necessarily looking for imposters all the time, and if someone testifies that they’re ‘XYZ,’ that’s usually what they are.”
Courtney A. Fantone, founder and director of Community Helping Individuals Living in Distress — otherwise known as CHILD, an advocacy organization that reviews DSS foster care cases — said the impact this revelation will have on the county will be “horrific.”
“By his own account, Thomas Doyle has touched the lives of thousands of families in this county; whether by way of testimony, evaluation, or recommendation. To think that he may not have been properly qualified or credentialed to adequately undertake this task, is absolutely nauseating,” Ms. Fantone said. “We all, even those of us who have not been directly impacted by this issue, should be asking some serious questions here, starting with how many parents’ rights have been terminated, or on the flip side, how many children have been placed in dangerous situations as a result of this man’s recommendations, and how do we rectify that harm?”
Mr. Johns was similarly unsure of what justice might look like if it is determined that fraud has been committed.
“As far as the cases he’s touched, I don’t know that I have a straightforward answer for that, but I think he certainly needs to face the law,” Mr. Johns said. “I hope the public is paying attention.”
County attorney Stephen D. Button said the county “has recently been made aware of allegations pertaining to Dr. Thomas Doyle.”
“We are still evaluating materials provided and will take appropriate action once we have completed our review,” Mr. Button said.
County Administrator Ruth A. Doyle could not be reached for comment.