Expert Tease

A landmark Arizona court ruling leads a Mesa woman, her former physician and expert witnesses through a continuing controversy over flashbacks of long-ago sexual abuse.

The tale that Kim Logerquist told on the morning of January 12, 1992, was shocking.

Logerquist sat in the offices of a Green Bay, Wisconsin, attorney and spoke of her onetime pediatrician, Dr. John Danforth. Then 29, the nurse said she'd recently had "flashbacks" of events that allegedly had happened two decades earlier, at Danforth's office in Mesa, Arizona. She'd been between 8 and 10 years old at the time.

Logerquist claimed a television commercial about children's aspirin had triggered her repressed memories.

Veteran attorney Frank Parks told jurors that the lawsuit against Dr. Danforth led to "a Salem witchcraft trial in 2001."
Alison Elizabeth Taylor
Veteran attorney Frank Parks told jurors that the lawsuit against Dr. Danforth led to "a Salem witchcraft trial in 2001."
Kim Logerquist, in the courtroom shortly before the verdict last December 11.
Todd H. Lillard
Kim Logerquist, in the courtroom shortly before the verdict last December 11.

"I was standing in front of Dr. Danforth, with no clothes on, no gown, no covering of any kind," she told the lawyer. "He was standing in front of me, facing me, and I had my hand on his left shoulder. I can feel clothing beneath my hand, and I have my knees separated and my legs bent slightly, and something that feels hard and cold is being inserted into my vagina. And I feel the pain from that, and I have a sense of wanting to cry, but holding back, and a fear of losing my balance, feeling as if I would fall off of the exam table."

Describing another "flashback," Logerquist said the doctor had "asked my mother to leave, which she did without question. Again, I was told to take off all of my clothes. I recall . . . something being inserted into me. Again, I did not see it, and I started to cry. I was threatened that if I did not stop crying and stop making a fuss, that I would be given a big shot. At that point, a syringe was taken out of a drawer and set next to me on the exam table."

Logerquist also said Danforth had been smoking a cigar on each of her visits, that his exam room had a poster of a giraffe on a wall, and that she'd heard him using profanity in the hallway.

She said she'd told her mother, Lucille, that she didn't want to return to Danforth's office, but to no avail. (Lucille Logerquist died in 1980.) Logerquist claimed her panties were soaked with blood after an assault, but she'd thrown them into a garbage can out of embarrassment.

"All I could tell her was that I didn't want to go to him because I always had to take my clothes off," she said. "She sort of made light of the situation and said, 'Well, he's a doctor. That's what you have to do . . .'"

The recent revelations had made her suicidal, Logerquist said, and she'd recently overdosed on Tylenol PM. In fact, she'd just been released from a psychiatric hospital after 47 days there.

On November 19, 2001, almost 10 years after providing her tape-recorded account, Kim Logerquist took the witness stand in a Maricopa County courtroom. She was about to testify as the plaintiff in the case of Logerquist v. Danforth, a landmark medical-malpractice lawsuit.

By his own account, Kent Turley, Logerquist's attorney, had spent more than $300,000 of his firm's money to fund the case. He would ask the jury to award Logerquist up to $5 million.

Across the courtroom from Logerquist, 69-year-old John Danforth -- still practicing in Mesa after four previously unblemished decades -- awaited the next act in what had become the most hellish experience of his life.

The doctor steadfastly denied any wrongdoing. His attorneys, Frank Parks and Kari Zangerle, claimed that, if Logerquist had been assaulted, the guilty party was a family member. They planned to argue that therapists during another Logerquist hospitalization two years before the alleged "flashbacks" persuaded her that someone had molested her.

An extremely controversial Arizona Supreme Court ruling in April 2000 had turned Logerquist into a nationally scrutinized case.

Unlike all other state Supreme Courts, Arizona's highest court decided 3-2 in Logerquist to discard the judge's gatekeeper role in filtering out so-called "expert testimony."

Justice Stanley Feldman wrote for the majority that Arizona jurors should be allowed to hear all such testimony -- in this instance, about the supposed legitimacy of "recovered memories."

In so ruling, the court reversed the decision of the trial judge in Logerquist, who said studies about the effect of trauma on memory are not "generally accepted" by mainstream scientists and researchers.

Legal scholars nationwide expressed dismay and amazement at the ruling. Within months, Logerquist's potential ramifications became a hot topic in periodicals, and at State Bar seminars and law school debates.

Many predicted that, if other Supreme Courts followed Arizona's lead, the specter of "junk science" could resurface en masse, reversing recent legal trends to the contrary.

One law school student, Tomika Stevens, warned last year in the respected Villanova Law Review that "admitting testimony of questionable validity increases the risk of false accusations of abuse, and subsequent adverse verdicts."

The high court's divisive ruling would get put to the test at the Logerquist trial, in the form of testimony provided by two true heavyweights in the politically charged world of trauma and memory research.

The task of the 10-person jury at downtown Phoenix's Old Courthouse was basic: Listen to testimony from all comers, then decide if Kim Logerquist was telling the truth about Dr. John Danforth.

What they'd experience in Superior Court Judge Kenneth Mangum's courtroom would be a profound intersection of the law and science, and of the logical and the mystifying.

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