Psyched Out: Governor Jan Brewer’s Liaison Hijacks the Democratic Process

If you are bitter about something that happened in your divorce, don't take it out on the rest of us.

If you hated your court-appointed psychologist, that doesn't give you the right to screw with every court-appointed psychologist in the state of Arizona.

And even if you work for the governor — make that, especially if you work for the governor — how about at least pretending to respect the legislative process?

Last month, I heard some disturbing things about the actions of Jeri Auther, who is the governor's liaison to boards and regulatory commissions. And now that I've looked into it, I'm truly concerned.

The record suggests that Auther used her position to pressure a state regulatory board — to the point that its members feared for the board's existence unless they gave into her demands.

The accusations come from the Arizona Board of Psychologist Examiners, which regulates psychologists here. For the record, no one directly involved was willing to speak to me about this issue. Not the board's executive director, not its lobbyist, and not Auther.

But board minutes and audiotape of two recent meetings make it clear that Auther seriously overstepped in her dealings with the agency.

Even worse, after talking to Governor Jan Brewer's spokesman, it appears that Auther attempted to strong-arm the psychologists' board not because the governor wanted action, but because Auther had a personal agenda.

That agenda, I suspect, had to do with her divorce.

As in many divorces, Auther and her ex disagreed about who should have custody of their three children. But unlike most divorces, which generate months of bitterness only to wrap up eventually with everybody reasonably intact, this was a divorce for the record books. It literally encompasses 15 files at the Maricopa County Superior Court Clerk's Office — a stack of documents well over two feet high.

The documents show that the divorce took nearly five years, 14 judges, and at least two trips to the appellate court. Jeri Auther personally chewed through four lawyers, two of whom ultimately withdrew from the case, citing "fundamental disagreements" with her as a client. Auther, who is a lawyer, ran out of money and was forced to represent herself for a time — and ended up in bankruptcy court, to boot.

The file is a sad testament to two people who simply can't work anything out, even with the full resources of the court to help them do it. It makes for a depressing read.

Where it's relevant to our story is this: The court appointed a therapist to evaluate the Authers' children, too. And Jeri Auther did not like what the therapist said.

Throughout the divorce, Auther had complained of physical and emotional abuse. (During a custody dispute, she called the cops on her ex, who was charged with two counts of misdemeanor assault. He ultimately entered a "no contest" plea.)

Auther's allegations became a major sticking point with the court-appointed therapist. Auther complained that the shrink didn't take her claims seriously, she didn't interview the children's pediatrician, she didn't spend enough time talking to Auther's personal psychologist. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Ultimately, the therapist concluded that Jeri Auther, and not just her husband, bore some responsibility for the couple's difficulties.

"This evaluator feels that the parents must learn to work cooperatively to co-parent their three children," the counselor wrote, "and not use the legal system as a way to attempt to control or manipulate one another."

Interestingly, Auther basically got what she wanted: sole legal custody. But she found the therapist's report so outrageous, she would testify about it four years later, in 2004, to an Arizona Supreme Court committee examining custody cases.

"The evaluator did not address two domestic violence convictions, and never addressed substance abuse and child abuse . . .," the minutes quote Auther as saying. "Her biggest complaint was the lack of consistency."

Even before Governor Janet Napolitano moved to D.C. and Jan Brewer ascended to the governorship, the Arizona Board of Psychologist Examiners had been working with the Legislature to get a bill passed that would clean up the rules governing psychologists.

House Bill 2206 covered a lot: training, the governance of out-of-state psychologists, and — most importantly — the method for handling complaints against board-certified psychologists who are appointed in family court.

Over the years, I'm told, the board has been flooded with complaints from angry parties in divorce cases. That's not surprising: These cases get highly emotional, and if one parent is happy, the other one usually isn't. A complaint to the psych board generally forces psychologists to recuse themselves — and that allows the unhappy parent to try again with another professional.

The first psychologist, of course, gets stuck spending time and money to defend his license. And that bothered the psych board. In all but the most unusual cases, the board was closing out nearly all such complaints as "unfounded." Why continue to provide an outlet for so many frivolous complaints?