On July 7, 2010, CJA filed a complaint with the New York Office of Professional Discipline (OPD) on behalf of New York psychologist Dr. Steven Reisner against New York psychologist Dr. John Leso for his role in designing, implementing, and participating in a system of abusive interrogations at United States Naval Station at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Due to the limitations of the law, CJA’s complaint was limited to violations of the code of professional conduct set forth by New York law for licensed psychologists, specifically New York Education Law section 6509 (2) (practice beyond authorized scope, gross incompetence, gross negligence) and subsection (9) (unprofessional conduct); Rules of Regents section 29.1(b)(5) (conduct exhibiting a moral unfitness to practice the profession) and subsection (b)(11) (unauthorized treatment); and Rules of Regents section 29.2(a)(1) (neglect of a patient in need of immediate care), subsection (a)(2) (willful abuse and harassment), and subsection (a)(7) (unwarranted treatment). The allegations of the Complaint were supported in detail by numerous documents made public by the United States Senate Armed Services Committee, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Department of Defense, among others.
Dismissal and Request for Reconsideration
On July 28, 2010 the OPD denied jurisdiction over the complaint under a theory that Dr. Leso’s conduct did not constitute the practice of psychology and thus was not governed by New York standards for professional psychologists.
CJA reiterated its request for an investigation of Dr. Leso for his clear violations of psychologists’ professional standards in an August 26th letter, noting that Dr. Leso’s conduct at Guantánamo Bay fell squarely within the legal definition of psychology in New York. Moreover, Dr. Leso represented himself as a psychologist, for which New York requires a license. The OPD never responded to CJA’s request.
The New York State Supreme Court
On November 24, 2010, CJA and the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) filed a petition in New York State Court asking the Court to order the OPD to perform its duty to investigate the complaint against Dr. Leso; arguing that the OPD erred in its interpretation of the law and noting that the OPD’s duty to investigate allegations of professional misconduct is mandatory under both New York law and the agency’s own rules and regulations. On January 14, 2011, the New York Attorney General filed a motion to dismiss the petition.
On April 6, 2011, CJA argued the motion in the first U.S. court hearing on whether a psychologist’s participation in abusive interrogations could violate professional standards. The hearing before the state supreme court in Manhattan filled the small courtroom with press, doctors and other interested members of the public. Read the transcript here. The court granted the Attorney General’s motion to dismiss our complaint on August 11, 2012. In its narrow procedural ruling, the court found that it did not have jurisdiction to rule on the merits of Dr. Reisner’s claims because Dr. Reisner, who filed on behalf of the public interest of the profession of NY psychologists rather than a direct patient, lacked standing to bring the complaint. The ruling is unfortunate, as Dr. Reisner’s claims raise serious and fundamental questions that should have their day in court.