The Maryland court document showing State Representative David Stringer was charged with multiple sex offenses in 1983 doesn’t offer much by way of details.
One of the few specifics in the document comes on page three, in which the court notes that Stringer “is to seek admission to Dr. Berlin’s program at Hopkins."
The line refers to Dr. Frederick Berlin, a psychiatrist and one of the nation’s leading experts on sexual disorders, particularly pedophilia. His clinic at Johns Hopkins University was one of the first to specialize in helping people with “difficulties of a sexual nature,” as he put it last week in a phone interview with Phoenix New Times.
The question of why Stringer was instructed to “seek admission” to Berlin's program could be key to an investigation by outside counsel working at the behest of the Arizona House Ethics Committee. Two formal complaints against Stringer filed by his colleagues cite the Maryland court’s instruction regarding Berlin’s program as a potential subject for inquiry.
While Berlin remains unknown to most Arizonans, his name has touched almost every side of Maryland's criminal courts.
Prosecutors have asked Berlin to assess defendants' threat to the community. Judges have instructed defendants to seek treatment at Berlin’s clinic as a condition of probation. Defense attorneys have approached Berlin to evaluate whether their clients have a condition amenable to treatment, which could help make a case for rehabilitative, rather than punitive, sentencing.
Berlin has also served as an expert witness in high-profile criminal cases, including the trial of serial killer, rapist, and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer.
The idea for his clinic came about in 1980 because of the dearth of places to help people with sexual disorders, he said.
"We recognized there was a need out there,” he said. “It didn't take very long before we started seeing folks who needed assistance with those types of difficulties."
Berlin’s clinic became known for — with the help of sexologist John Money — injecting patients with Depo-Provera, a drug that reduces testosterone in an attempt to curb sex drives. Berlin more recently switched to using Depro-Lupron, which requires monthly, rather than weekly, dosages and carries fewer side effects.
He likens the practice to giving a hunger suppressant to someone trying to lose weight. “It becomes easier to diet and lose weight, but it's not impossible to eat,” Berlin said. "That's really the idea here. It's to lower the intensity of sexual appetite."
In a 2018 profile of Berlin, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that “hundreds” of Maryland sex offenders have been offered probation after agreeing to taking Depo-Provera.
But Berlin emphasized to New Times the drug is an option for treatment, and not “by any means” given routinely to patients who come in for treatment.
Berlin has advocated for more a treatment-based, as opposed to punitive, approach to sex offenses.
In 1987 he supported a bill that would allow child molesters to "report an incident of sexual abuse to a therapist without requiring the counselor to turn the offender in to police or child protection workers,” the Baltimore Sun reported. The Maryland legislature, under pressure from child advocates, repealed the law after a year.
His area of work has put him in the crosshairs of child and victims’ advocates. He’s been called a “pedophile apologist” by Liberty University professor Judith Reisman, a critic of pornography and one of Berlin’s most visible detractors.
Berlin’s program remains the subject of some debate in the Maryland legal community.
"He’s a very intelligent man and a very good witness,” said Jason League, who served in the last decade as the head of child-abuse sex crimes in the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s Office.
Yet Jack Hanly, who served as a prosecutor in Montgomery County in the '80s, said he didn’t have much faith in Berlin’s program. Hanly recalled a case in which a man was arrested for soliciting boys for sex. A judge released the man over Hanly’s objections because he had just started in Berlin’s program, Hanly said. The man later killed a child, he said.
Responding to a question about the criticism leveled at him and his clinic, Berlin noted that he has continued treating offenders for 35 years.
"This is an area likely to have some degree of controversy,” he said. "We're talking about sex. We're talking about criminal actions. We're talking about medications that effect mental states and sexual drive."
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Berlin spoke to New Times about his practice in general terms without addressing Stringer’s case or acknowledging whether the state representative was a client.
Stringer claims he was falsely arrested in 1983, according to a story by the conservative news site Arizona Daily Independent. The site claimed that two unnamed prostitutes falsely named Stringer as a client, and reported without citing a source that Stringer pleaded to a sentence of “probation before judgment” for two unspecified misdemeanors without admitting guilt.
Asked how often he treated patients arrested for prostitution, Berlin said he can’t remember “more than a handful” of cases.
"The court's primary concern is public safety, and most courts don't tend to see people who solicit prostitutes as presenting a terribly high danger to the community,” Berlin said. "It would be unusual, but it's not unheard of.”