A long and winding road toward justice is finally reaching its end. After years of delays, the San Mateo County courthouse in Redwood City will finally begin to hear the voices of 11 former patients who allege they were molested by Dr. William Ayres while undergoing school or court-ordered or parental referred psychotherapy while adolescents (in some cases, as young as elementary school-aged).
A total of 41 former patients of Ayres have gone public with their allegations of abuse at the hands of the physician (or have been identified by the San Mateo County’s DA office), although he is currently charged with molesting seven former patients between 1991 and 1996.
Normal “housekeeping” activities were on the docket this week, including pretrial motions and the assignment of a judge to hear the case. Superior Court Judge Beth Freeman (Department 3, courtroom 2L) has been selected to hear this trial, and jury selection will officially begin on Monday, June 8—a jury of 12 with four alternates. Jury selection may last up to two weeks, and testimony is expected to last 8 to 12 weeks.
Other housekeeping activities included defense attorney Doron Weinberg, prosecutor Melissa McKowan, and the court establishing a definition of the word “masturbation.” As part of an exchange in dialogue between the attorneys and the court, McKowan characterized an incident between Ayres and one of the boys as the physician unzipping the boy’s pants and started “fishing around.” Ayres, whose affect has thus far been as flat and blunted as Phil Spector’s was observed to be during his trials, visibly flinched and turned his face to the wall. Since his arrest, Ayres now uses a walker to get around, and thus far the device has remained in plain view within the defendant’s reach. He is also morbidly obese.
Weinberg also continues his confrontational ways by arranging to have freelance author Victoria Balfour, the civilian whistleblower who was a driving force in getting this case brought to trial, removed from the courtroom, stating she is a potential witness. (Even though Balfour’s knowledge of the case would be considered hearsay, as she didn’t observe the abuse and has never had any contact with the seven victims within statute. Because Balfour is a published author, with works appearing in the New York Times, the Washington Post, People and Vogue, among others, one might argue there are some First Amendments rights being stepped on here by the defense attorney.)
Ayres, now retired at age 77, was arrested in 2007 after an on-and-off investigation that began in 1987. That initial complaint was investigated but no charges were brought against the psychiatrist. Additional alleged victims came foreword in 1994 and 1996.
Ayres claims that physical examinations were a normal thing for him to do, including more than cursory examinations of the boys’ genitalia. Most child psychiatrists today do not perform physical exams on a routine basis. And the young men who allege abuse state that what they experienced was much more than a cursory look or touch—some claim they were masturbated to the point of ejaculation.
The case started moving toward justice again in 2002, when another former patient went public at the urging of his friend, freelance writer Victoria Balfour. That case was in the process of being investigated when the United States Supreme Court made a ruling changing the statute of limitations in sexual abuse cases. Childhood molestation charges can be brought by victims who are younger than 29 or whose alleged abuse occurred after January 1, 1988. The criminal proceedings of that case were dropped and ultimately a civil judgment was brought and awarded against Ayres.
The case took on new life in 2005 thanks Balfour’s own detective work, locating and encouraging former patients of Ayres to speak up about their own abuse, knowing her friend’s abuse (and the complaint brought in 1987) could not possibly have been the only two cases of molestation. Police in San Mateo began to investigate in earnest, executing a search warrant for Ayres’ patients’ records, identifying possible victims of abuse.
Ayres had been treating county-referred patients as recently as 2004.
As a result of pouring over the medical records, identifying possible victims and victims coming forward as part of the investigation, Ayres was arrested in April 2007, and was allowed to post $750,000 bail. He has not been practicing medicine in any form since that time and has allowed his medical license to lapse. While out on bail he has been treated for prostate cancer.
Ayres had been a practicing psychiatrist in San Mateo County since the 1960s where he was one of the few San Mateo County psychiatrists with a subspecialty in child and adolescent psychiatry. He hosted a controversial PBS documentary in 1968 titled “Time of Your Life,” a sex education series geared toward elementary-aged children.
This trial will be the first time most of the alleged victims will be testifying in open court. During a preliminary hearing in 2007, police officers testified in lieu of the former patients, revealing information the men has shared during the investigation, describing their ages and their experiences during their appointments with Ayres. One San Mateo officer testified that one of the young men said Ayres told him no one would believe his stories of abuse—that no one would believe the good doctor had done such a thing, and no one would believe a troubled teenager.
The delay in hearing this trial is not due to any extra time being needed by the San Mateo County District Attorney’s office. This trial has been continued because of Ayres’ health issues, issues within the court, and defense attorney Weinberg’s involvement with the recently concluded Phil Spector case.
The first start date, on March 10, 2008, was postponed in order for Ayres to undergo treatment for prostate cancer. The second start date, June 23, 2008, was cancelled with a state appeals court hearing regarding the admissibility of the patient files as evidence (Weinberg argued using the files as evidence violated the state's psychotherapist-patient privilege, lacked probable cause and permitted constitutionally prohibited searches). The files were ultimately declared admissible.
The third delay was due to the unexpected withdrawal of Superior Court Judge John Runde from the case, who wisely removed himself from the case because of his antipathy toward Weinberg. While no specific incident has been officially offered as an explanation, the judge does have the right to recuse from a case if he or she feels that there is something that could bias his or her decision-making process. It is possible that Weinberg’s actions during a December 2007 hearing aggravated the judge past the point of no return.
A fourth start date was scheduled for January 2009, but due to scheduling conflicts due to Weinberg’s involvement in the Spector trial, a fifth start date was scheduled for May, which was again delayed because of sentencing in the Spector trial.
There are allegations of abuse going back to the late 1960s, but these of course are well past the statute of limitations and inadmissible. For some of Ayres’ former patients, their only opportunity to speak in front of the court will be at Ayres’ sentencing.
The team at T&T wishes strength to the former patients of this psychiatrist who have been brave enough to follow through and do what is right, for themselves and for the other boys (now young men) who may not yet be strong enough to come forward. You are not the criminal here.
We also hope the First Amendment rights of reporter Victoria Balfour are restored posthaste.