Longform

Dr. Deception: Joseph Franzetti Dispenses $300 Psych Evaluations Like They’re Flu Shots, but the Reports Are Useless

Lisa Davis made it to her late-afternoon appointment with forensic psychiatrist Joseph Franzetti with time to spare.

It was April 2007, and Davis was with her 10-year-old son, Troy.

The fourth-grader was facing charges of criminal damage and burglary in Maricopa County Juvenile Court. He and a pal had gotten into trouble for breaking into a west Phoenix middle school and causing damage.

Because of the boy's tender age and serious learning disabilities, a judge had appointed two mental-health professionals to evaluate what the boy might know about the legal process and his place in it.

After separately interviewing Troy, each would file a "Rule 11" report with the judge listing their conclusions about the boy's competence to stand trial.

It was different from an insanity defense, in that the judge wasn't concerned with Troy's state of mind at the time of the offense.

The question on the table was whether Troy Davis was legally competent at the present time.

Records show that Troy, a special-education student at a small private school, is on psychotropic and other medications.

A few weeks before the session with Dr. Franzetti, Lisa Davis and her son met for about an hour with the other mental-health evaluator, psychologist Deborah Desprois.

Dr. Desprois concluded in her studiously detailed report to Judge Jonathan Schwartz that Troy "demonstrated no awareness or knowledge of the legal system, and expressed no understanding of any principles when I tried to explain them to him."

She said Troy knew nothing about the duties of defense attorneys, prosecutors, or judges, a key factor in Rule 11 reports.

Desprois wrote that Troy would not be "restored" to competence within the six months allowed under Arizona law to understand court proceedings. (The word restoration in this instance was misleading because it wrongly suggests that the boy once was competent.)

But Troy's mother did know how the criminal justice system works, specifically the competency-restoration process.

A teacher and doctoral-level psychologist, Lisa Davis had been teaching kids about it for years, including juveniles facing delinquency charges at the courthouse. (At the mother's request, New Times has changed Lisa and Troy Davis' real names to protect the boy's identity.)

Davis wasn't trying to pull a fast one on her son's behalf. She says she was more than willing to pay for the damage Troy had done in the school break-in.

But she also expected that the judge would dismiss the criminal charges against Troy because of his age and disabilities.

Davis says Dr. Franzetti's office at the Rio Salado Behavioral Health complex in Phoenix was crowded with parents and children with Rule 11 appointments.

That surprised her. She expected Troy's interview would take time, an hour or so, and she wondered how Franzetti would fit everyone in.

But people were moving in and out of the inner offices every few minutes, and someone soon ushered Davis and her son into Franzetti's meeting room.

Lisa Davis says Dr. Franzetti's court-ordered evaluation of her son took no more than five minutes and consisted of one question.

"Dr. Franzetti asked my son what the judge's job was," she says. "He answered, 'He's the boss.' That's exactly what I had told him before. Then Franzetti spoke with me for a few minutes. That was it."

Davis says she was "truly stunned" when she learned afterward that Franzetti's two-page report to Judge Schwartz said her son could be "restored" to competence within six months.

His report concluded that Troy currently was incompetent because of "cognitive naivety," an odd turn of phrase not found in the Psychiatric Dictionary, a go-to sourcebook for shrinks.

Franzetti claimed he asked Troy about the role of the public defender, to which Troy responded, "He is there to help me."

In response to an alleged question about what a judge does, Franzetti wrote that Troy told him, "He tells you to come to court."

Drs. Franzetti and Desprois billed the county $300 each for their reports, the going rate for Rule 11 evaluations.

Their differences of opinion meant the court would have to appoint a third doc to break the tie.

Forensic psychiatrist Jack Potts got the nod.

Lisa Davis says Dr. Potts interviewed her son alone for about an hour while she waited in another room.

Like Dr. Desprois, Potts concluded that Troy was incompetent and would remain so for the foreseeable future.

Judge Schwartz then dismissed the criminal case against Troy at a brief hearing.

Lisa Davis says she wanted to tell the judge about her and her son's troubling interaction with Joe Franzetti but didn't get the chance.

But Davis couldn't get it out of her head and, without fanfare, decided to stop teaching "restoration" classes at her school.

"I was appalled by what Dr. Franzetti did," Davis says. "He was so dishonest. He is running a racket and the courts let him get away with it. It wasn't about justice or doing the right thing for the child, for the court, or for anyone. It was about him making quick money."

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