Longform

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

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Joseph Franzetti did not respond to requests by New Times for an interview for this story.


Dr. Jack Potts, too, was very disturbed by Joseph Franzetti's report in the Troy Davis case.

The veteran psychiatrist, who used to head the county's Forensic Services Unit, knew about Franzetti's checkered professional past, part of which was documented in an earlier New Times story ("Assisted Suicide," June 2005).

The story detailed how Franzetti lied in a medical record and afterward about meeting with mentally ill jail inmate Steven Cervantes on the day Cervantes committed suicide.

But Franzetti hadn't met with Cervantes that day, May 14, 2002.

More important, he had handwritten his notation in Cervantes' chart just minutes after the inmate had hanged himself in a holding cell at the Maricopa County Superior Court.

How Franzetti later avoided more than a tap on the wrist from the Arizona Medical Board will be explored later in this story.

Dr. Potts had written to then-presiding Juvenile Court Judge Emmet Ronan as early as 2005, expressing concerns about Franzetti's work in another juvenile case.

He says he heard nothing in response.

Potts tried again after Troy Davis' case was dismissed, this time in an April 2007 letter to Judge Schwartz and then-presiding Juvenile Court Judge Eileen Willett.

"I am seriously concerned about what appears to be unethical and possibly fraudulent conduct by a colleague," Potts wrote.

He noted that Franzetti said Troy was "oriented to person, time, and place [and] denied hallucinations or delusions."

But Potts wondered how Franzetti could have come to that conclusion if Lisa Davis was accurate and the doctor had asked Troy just one question.

Potts wrote that he had read another of Franzetti's recent evaluations quoting a different juvenile saying the public defender is "there to help me," and the judge "tells you to come to court."

That was precisely what Dr. Franzetti had quoted Troy Davis as saying.

Dr. Potts suggested something was amiss — either Franzetti mistakenly had duplicated his reports or intentionally was engaging in something more malevolent.

Potts concluded in his letter that Franzetti's work product "compromises the integrity of the competency evaluations and harms my profession and the public."

He tells New Times that his second letter to the court also was met with silence.

Judge Schwartz, who has retired from the bench, tells New Times that he recalls Potts' letter.

"I saw that the presiding judge [Willett] had been cc'd on it and thought she'd deal with it. I also remember a couple of defense attorneys showing me some of his reports — like he was using a form or something."

Joseph Franzetti continued to churn out his Rule 11 "evaluations" without a glitch. Indeed, the courts have appointed him to more cases since 2007 than any other mental-health professional.

Franzetti is, by far, the highest paid of the 44 mental-health professionals who contract with Maricopa County to provide competency evaluations.

In fiscal 2009, which ended last June 30, the county paid the doctor $227,999. The second-highest-paid was psychologist Joanne Babich at $183,332.

Most of the others collect far less, in part because it isn't worth it to them to spend hours — to do the job correctly — on a case for a mere $300.

Franzetti, though, bangs out his Rule 11 evaluations as if he's dispensing flu shots.

For this doctor, time definitely is money.

In addition to his constant work at the courthouse, Dr. Joseph Franzetti is medical director of Youth Evaluation and Treatment Centers and works part time at Rio Salado Behavioral Health — where he had met so briefly with Lisa and Troy Davis.

Franzetti said in a March 2009 deposition that he also regularly sees patients at a federal prison in Phoenix, and on the Pascua Yaqui Indian Reservation.

Dr. Potts was on the money, literally and otherwise, about Joe Franzetti, whose Rule 11 reports are more than slipshod.

In reporting this story, New Times obtained 48 evaluations performed since 2007 by Dr. Franzetti in juvenile delinquency cases.

To believe the doctor, 46 of the 48 must have been channeling the same muse. In all but two of his evaluations he quotes his subjects as telling him that the public defender "is there to help me," or almost exactly the same words.

Also, in just fewer than half of the 48 cases, Franzetti's reports claim the juvenile told him that the judge "tells you when to come to court" or something close.

That the quotes sometimes are slightly different from each other ("is there to help me," "is there to help me with my rights," "is there to help you," "is there to protect me,") suggests Franzetti doesn't simply cut-and-paste.

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