Longform

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

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In each of the reports, Franzetti concluded that the juvenile was incompetent to stand trial but could be "restored" after taking classes and, in some cases, taking prescription medications.

To the contrary, a vast majority of mental-health professionals usually conclude that adults and juveniles over the age of 14 are competent to stand trial. (Fifteen of the 48 cases perused by New Times involved juveniles under 14.)

An "incompetent, but restorable" finding means lengthy and expensive steps that include classes, new testing, evaluations, and more court hearings.

Maricopa County's jurists have failed to notice (or have looked the other way) about Franzetti's continuing to repeat himself in his evaluations. Perhaps those judges and commissioners don't even bother to read the reports that are supposed to make all the difference in how they rule in competency cases.

Perhaps the doctor has provided the court with exactly what it wants, a quick answer to the ultimate question of whether a defendant is competent to stand trial.

One example occurred during a 10-day period in June 2008, in the courtroom of juvenile judge Dawn Bergin.

During that time, Bergin received at least three Rule 11 evaluations from Dr. Franzetti. Each of the juveniles in those cases allegedly told him that a public defender "is there to help me."

But one of those juveniles told the other mental-health professional assigned to his case that the public defender "is the guy who takes you away after you get into trouble."

It wouldn't have taken much for the judge to have compared those two dramatically differing accounts and, perhaps, considered what was going on and demanded an explanation.

But she didn't and neither, apparently, did any of the other jurists for whom Franzetti has supplied hundreds of reports.

Only since an alleged sexually charged August 25 incident at the county's Estrella Jail between Franzetti and a female inmate has come to light have county officials finally cast a closer eye on Joe Franzetti.

Maricopa County sheriff's detectives are investigating, says the inmate's criminal-defense attorney Amy Nguyen.

According to several sources inside the county's court system, Franzetti has not been receiving appointments to perform Rule 11 evaluations in adult court in the past two weeks.

But the same sources say the doctor still is getting appointed in juvenile cases, despite the ongoing investigation. (Norman Davis, the presiding Juvenile Court judge, was out of town and unavailable for comment for this story.)


At the very least, Joseph Franzetti continues to cost taxpayers an awful lot of money.

Forget for a moment that he's raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars by filing important evaluations tainted by obviously made-up quotes.

Think instead of the money — more than $1.2 million — paid to the survivors of two jail inmates (and a third who survived) in wrongful death/civil rights lawsuits because of Franzetti's failure to protect their lives by providing them even minimally adequate treatment.

In 2006, Maricopa County awarded Dr. Franzetti contracts to provide services to the Superior and Juvenile courts in adult and juvenile Rule 11 cases.

He won the jobs despite having been fired as a jail staff psychiatrist in the aftermath of his substandard treatment of the two suicidal jail inmates whose families later successfully sued him.

Asked to describe Dr. Franzetti, current and former colleagues contacted by New Times provided the following adjectives: charming, glib, self-centered, bright, and untrustworthy.

Joseph Franzetti is a lanky, good-looking guy who wears a dark mustache and carries himself with poise.

His career path to psychiatry is quirky: Born in New York State, he has claimed in depositions to have been a professional drummer (musical genre unknown) for a few years after graduating from Wagner College.

Franzetti moved to Mexico in the early 1980s to matriculate at the Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara after failing to win entrance to medical schools in the States.

Franzetti's file with the Arizona Medical Board notes that he graduated from the Mexican medical school in 1989, after which there's a curious seven-year gap in his résumé.

"There was some employment, and there was a lapse for study time" is how Franzetti danced around a question about those years in a 2004 civil deposition.

The doctor said he trained as a psychiatrist at hospitals in Michigan, Massachusetts, and at the Maricopa Medical Center before landing a position at the Madison Street Jail in downtown Phoenix in 2001.

The job of jailhouse shrink includes speaking with patients, prescribing meds, making notations in medical charts, and constantly meeting with other staffers.

When Franzetti started work at Madison, he was assigned to look after 75 or 80 mentally ill inmates during a shift.

One of his patients in May 2002 was Steven Cervantes, a deeply troubled and suicidal inmate facing a lengthy prison sentence for an assault.

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