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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Rights For The Poor and Public Defenders

LAWYER AND DEFENDANT Kimberly Hurell-Harring was represented by Patrick E. Barber, left, in a case that could change the system

March 19, 2010
The Right to Counsel: Woman Becomes a Test Case


SHE was poor and in trouble. He was the public defender appointed to represent her.

She was Kimberly Hurell-Harring, a nobody in the courts, a nursing home worker and a mother of two who had done something stupid. He was Patrick E. Barber, a lawyer with a silver stubble of a beard, paid by the county and state to help make the criminal justice system as fair to the poor as it is to the rich.

At his urging, she pleaded guilty and went to jail for a felony that turned out not to be a felony at all. “It seemed like he was on the D.A.’s side,” she said later.

He said recently that he had done what he could: “They had her dead to rights.”

Usually, such a minor case would go unnoticed; a little test of the constitutional right to a lawyer, results unknown. Instead it has made Mr. Barber an emblem of the problems of the state’s ramshackle system of providing lawyers for indigent defendants. On Tuesday, New York’s highest court is to consider a class-action suit, filed by civil liberties lawyers in Ms. Hurell-Harring’s name, that seeks broad changes in the state’s frayed network of public defenders, who are routinely unmonitored and often overwhelmed. Her case, now being pored over by some of the state’s leading lawyers and judges, offers a window into the everyday corners of the legal system, where no one is usually watching.

It began two and a half years ago, in October 2007, in the Washington County Court here, not far from the Vermont border. In an area of the state where prisons are an industry, Ms. Hurell-Harring pleaded guilty to trying to sneak her inmate husband three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana in a condom she had hidden in her vagina.

From the courtroom benches, the few spectators saw a frightened woman who had never been in trouble before and a public defender who was not fighting for her. “She was sitting there looking stunned and confused,” said Daniel J. Freeman, a recent Yale Law School graduate who had been sent to observe by the New York Civil Liberties Union. “I didn’t see him interacting much with her.”

The story of this one defendant and her public defender, assembled through interviews and court records, is about a woman who was barely making it before the legal system helped shove her off track.

And it is also about a small-town lawyer and part-time public servant sinking in personal and professional quicksand that few people knew about when he showed up to represent Kimberly Hurell-Harring. Least of all her.

The Client

She was 31 in the fall of 2007, a spirited woman with a big smile and 13 gold hoops in one ear. Pregnant at 14, she could have become lost. But she had earned her high school diploma and done something with the nursing assistant’s certificate she carried proudly in her wallet.

She worked nights, sometimes two jobs, changing bedpans and offering solace. When Amos D. Harring was arrested for assault, she stuck by him. The police said he had shot someone.

She arrived in Washington County on Sept. 29 on the journey thousands of women make every year to the state’s far reaches, where their men are locked away. She came twice a month or even more often, sometimes alone, sometimes with her two girls, ages 16 and 4.

This time, the three of them had driven together, 240 miles across the state from Rochester, where they had always lived. There was to be a family visit the next day at the hulking maximum-security prison, Great Meadow Correctional Facility, where Mr. Harring, who was 30, was doing eight years.

But that morning, she left the girls at the Budget Inn and went by herself to see him. When she got to the turreted wall that makes Great Meadow look like some 1940s-movie prison, two investigators hustled her off. They had recordings of the couple’s phone conversations. They knew about the marijuana in the condom, a tactic that was more of a prison cliché than an investigative challenge.

Three-quarters of an ounce was not much. But any marijuana is contraband.

She was terrified as the investigators laid out their case, and confessed. “I am very, very, very sorry that I did this,” she wrote, acknowledging, too, that it was not the first time. Her husband said later that it had all been his idea. “I have threatened and forced her to bring drugs into the facility,” he wrote in a notarized statement a few days after her arrest.

There was a frantic call to an aunt in Rochester to pick up the girls. A local judge set bail at $10,000, an impossible sum. Then she landed in Alpha Pod, the spartan women’s dormitory at the county jail, where 22 women slept on metal bunks in a concrete-block room.

She worried. About her girls. About her mother, a stroke victim. About her future. She knew a felony conviction meant any nursing home job would be gone, along with her rent-subsidized apartment and a lot of other things.

She kept saying, to anyone who would listen, that she wanted a misdemeanor deal. She knew she had made a mistake, but, though she had not a day of legal training, it did not seem like a felony to her.

Some of the other women in Alpha Pod were hard cases, drug abusers and repeat petty criminals who warned her about public defenders. It is an article of jailhouse faith that poor people get what they pay for in lawyers: Nothing.

She said one of the women, named Becky, gave her a specific caution about Mr. Barber: “You got to be careful.”

The Lawyer

Everybody around Fort Edward knew Pat Barber, a fixture at the courthouse and a stepfather of two whose family owned a local tavern. He had been here all his life except for college in western New York and law school at Syracuse.

So there was not much in the way of vetting when he put in a cost-conscious bid to become Washington County’s chief public defender, a part-time position he added to his private practice of trial work, debt collections, wills and divorces. It was quickly settled. Beginning in 2006, he would get $50,000 a year and some rent for the office he had shared with a law partner who had recently died. “We have to have a good reason not to take the low bid,” said John A. Rymph, the chairman of the County Board of Supervisors.

There were plenty of good reasons, according to court records released last month. Mr. Barber, 49 at the time, had been reprimanded twice — in 2002 and 2005 — by the Committee on Professional Standards, the state group that disciplines lawyers, for neglecting cases. He had been struggling with depression for years. “On some occasions he had to leave the courtroom because of panic attacks,” a report from his psychiatrist said. “He had daily drinks to cope.”

But the people reviewing the bids in Washington County knew none of that. The reprimands were confidential, though officials at the professional standards committee say they could have been released to a potential employer if Mr. Barber had signed a waiver. If, that is, anyone in Washington County had known to ask him to sign one.

Told recently about Mr. Barber’s history, Roger Wickes, the county attorney, said, “I would have assumed the board would have been concerned had they known about it.”

By the time Ms. Hurell-Harring made her trip across the state, Mr. Barber’s troubles were piling up.

He had put $304,895.46 in checks for an auto-accident settlement into the file and never mailed them to his client, court records say. He kept telling another client he was finishing up some work related to her divorce. “I misled her as far as the progress of what was going on,” he testified later.

In a third private-practice case, a man appealed his rape conviction, claiming that Mr. Barber had failed to do basic things at the trial like question some important witnesses. In time, a divided appeals court ruled that “no legitimate trial strategy existed.”

The week in October that he went to court for Ms. Hurell-Harring, Mr. Barber was being pursued on yet another file full of trouble. At the request of county officials, John R. Winn, a local lawyer, had been asking questions about two estates Mr. Barber was supposed to be handling that had been so neglected that two properties had been sold for unpaid taxes.

Mr. Winn started calling Mr. Barber, and eventually he turned over a carton with all his records on the two estates — dividend checks, tax bills and bank statements, all in their original envelopes. “I looked, and I said, ‘He’s never opened anything,’ ” Mr. Winn said. One of the women had died six years earlier.

In a long interview this month, Mr. Barber blamed his depression. “You just develop this nausea fear of a file and you would do anything to stay away from it,” he said.

He argued that his problems had not affected his public work. But his psychiatrist, Dr. Koock E. Jung, said in another disciplinary case against him, in 2009, that his symptoms included “breaking out sweating, dizziness and shortness of breath, which affected his law practice seriously, especially his public defender’s job.”

The Case

At the county jail, Ms. Hurell-Harring was growing frantic as she waited nearly a month for her sentencing. She called Mr. Barber’s office every few days. Usually the secretary said he was busy. When they did talk, she said, Mr. Barber told her she had no options.

On Nov. 8, 2007, the civil liberties union filed its class-action suit in Albany, mentioning Ms. Hurell-Harring’s contraband charge. A lawyer read it at the New York State Defenders Association, an organization that provides training and expertise to defense lawyers.

The lawyer, Alfred A. O’Connor, had been working for years on the very issue in her case: whether that small amount of marijuana should be defined as dangerous prison contraband, which could make her smuggling effort a felony, or whether it was ordinary contraband, a misdemeanor that might mean no jail time at all and none of the consequences that come with felony convictions.

Mr. O’Connor started calling Mr. Barber, too. “Good news,” he recalls saying when they spoke on Nov. 15, the day before Ms. Hurell-Harring’s sentencing. He told Mr. Barber that the state’s highest court was considering the contraband question. Defense lawyers had already laid out the very argument that could mean freedom for his client.

But Mr. Barber did not ask for a copy of the briefs. “There wasn’t any enthusiasm,” Mr. O’Connor said. Asked about this in the recent interview, Mr. Barber said had not wanted to bring up anything that could make prosecutors ask for a longer sentence.

The next day in court, Judge Kelly S. McKeighan noted that Ms. Hurell-Harring had admitted to the felony charge: promoting prison contraband in the first degree. Mr. Barber agreed, never mentioning that it might not be a felony at all.

“I just want to go home to my kids and my mother,” Ms. Hurell-Harring told the judge. Instead, she went back to jail, serving four months before she was released for good behavior. She left Washington County on Jan. 28, 2008, a convicted felon facing five years of probation.

The Aftermath

At home on Rochester’s northwest side, things were rough. Her $12-an-hour job was gone. She and the girls moved into her mother’s run-down house and survived on food stamps. The older one, Shaniqua, took a while to pick up where they left off.

“I promised her I would never leave her again,” Ms. Hurell-Harring said.

In New York City, the civil liberties lawyers had asked Roberta A. Kaplan, a partner at one of the country’s leading corporate firms, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, to see what could be done for Ms. Hurell-Harring.

Working without a fee, Ms. Kaplan and her team of lawyers did the kind of work lawyers there do for big companies like Citigroup and Time Warner and well-known people like Gov. David A. Paterson. They studied Mr. Barber’s work. They started filing appeals on Ms. Hurell-Harring’s behalf. One of them, Andrew J. Ehrlich, wondered: “How many other Kimberlys are there out there?” How many other Pat Barbers?

In June 2008, the State Court of Appeals ruled in the case Mr. O’Connor had worked on: that, indeed, a small amount of marijuana does not usually amount to dangerous prison contraband like a gun or a razor blade.

Pointing to that ruling, the Paul, Weiss lawyers persuaded a state appeals court in October 2009 to overturn Ms. Hurell-Harring’s conviction. “The act of which defendant is accused,” the court said, “does not constitute a crime.”

In Rochester, Ms. Hurell-Harring talked to her husband on the phone for the first time in two years. This month, she went back to work at a nursing home, for $9.70 an hour. “I finally can try to get my life back,” she said a few weeks ago.

In Washington County, court officials last spring noticed something odd in a judge’s order in a paternity case Mr. Barber had handled in 2007. It seemed to be signed by a Family Court judge, but the court had no such document in its files.

In June, a suicidal Mr. Barber was briefly hospitalized. In September, he resigned as public defender. Five months later, he was arrested and charged with a felony: forging the court order. He was released without bail.

In February, he was disbarred. An appeals court said he had created fake documents to “deceive his clients into believing that he had undertaken the tasks for which he had been retained.”

This month, still awaiting his own day in court on a felony charge, Mr. Barber sat at his law office desk sorting through a bunch of files. Inside, there was no heat. Outside, there was a “for sale” sign.

“Obviously, I did some stupid things,” he said. “I even hurt a couple of people, which I am very regretful for.”

But he defended some of his work, including the case of Kimberly Hurell-Harring.

He was asked what he remembered of her in those weeks in 2007 when their paths crossed. “Honestly,” he said, “a lot of crying.”

Alain Delaquérière and Toby Lyles contributed research.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Academy For Innovative Technology Violates Special Education Laws, Writes an Anonymous Former Teacher

Tweed, Headquarters of the NYC BOE
Academy of Innovative Technology

999 Jamaica Avenue Brooklyn, NY 11208
Phone: (718) 827-2469 Fax: (718) 827-4013
Website Map Principal: Cynthia Fowlkes
Parent Coordinator: No Parent Coordinator.

Grade levels: 9 to 12
Class size:
Enrollment: 205
Attendance: 85%
9th-graders reading on level: 15.4%
District 19

Admissions: Citywide
Neighborhood: Cypress Hills
Link to DOE stats
Citywide after-school directory
What the numbers mean

The Academy of Innovative Technology, opening in the Franklin K. Lane building in the fall of 2008 with a 9th grade, will offer students a chance to get a career and technical education in a small school setting. Franklin K. Lane is being phased out due to poor performance; it will graduate its last students in 2011.

Founded by Cynthhia Fowlkes, formerly director of the Department of Education's career and technical education office, the school will receive support from the National Academy Foundation, which operates vocational training programs in more than a dozen city schools. Students will be able to pursue industry certification in Microsoft Office, Adobe, and IC3 computer applications and they will also be able to take college courses for free at Baruch and Monroe colleges. To get to that goal, freshmen will take 90-minute periods of English, math, and information technology on alternating days.

"[Career and Technical Education] engages students and enables them to see who they are and what they might want to do," said Fowlkes, who also worked at Paul Robeson High School. She noted that while all students will take college preparatory courses, students who choose not to go to college will be able to secure a skilled job right after graduating.

Special education: Beginning in its first year, the school will accept students who require Special Education Teacher Support Services (SETSS), collaborative team teaching, and a self-contained setting.

Admission: Citywide. Preference is given to students who attend a high school fair or information session. (Philissa Cramer, February 2008)
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Jan 8, 2010

During interviewing for a teaching position in summer 2009, job candidates were told teachers, were responsible for writing their own curriculum. Boutique curriculum is a good idea but for teachers with less than 5 years experience with out the support of a curriculum associate or master teacher seemed like a poor educational planning. Maybe the principal can comment on this?

Cynthia Fowlkes

Treasurer [of Bailey's Cafe] Cynthia Fowlkes began her tenure as an educator in 1992, working at Paul Robeson High School for ten years within several capacities as a: business teacher, Career Coordinator, Academy of Finance Coordinator, Business Coordinator. During the 2002-2003 school year she served as Career and Technical Education Instructional Specialist of the Brooklyn High Schools Superintendents Office. Ms. Fowlkes returned to Robeson where she served as the Assistant Principal of the Business and Technology Departments until January 2006 when she became the Director of Career Technical Education at the Department of Education New York City. in spring 2008, Cynthia left Tweed to become principal of a new public school, Academy of Innovative Technology in Brooklyn, New York. Her work experience also includes fifteen years at Chase Manhattan Bank starting as a teller and moving up to a Senior Sales Representative. Her experience at Chase enabled her to develop a keen understanding of regional banking procedures and policies along with a comprehensive acuteness for finances and the business world in general. Ms. Fowlkes, was born in Lakeland, Florida and moved with her parents to New York City, in 1961. She holds degrees from Brooklyn College (BA), New York University (MA) and Bank Street College (MA,Ed.).

From Betsy Combier: below is an email received about this school from an anonymous former teacher:

I worked at a school in Brooklyn which violated several educational laws, specifically those for special education students. The school was the Academy of Innovative Technology, and it opened as one of the new schools in Franklin K. Lane, which is set to close. I had taught at FKL for four years before working at AoIT. The principal is Cynthia Fowlkes, former director of Career and Technical Education at the Department Education main administrative building.

I contacted the Integrated Service Center throughout the 2008-2009 school year and they condoned the actions I was asked to take. My principal was new and my heart goes out to her. She was very much acting in the way she was asked to by the many mentors that helped her. Though we offered self-contained classes in the high school directory, we actually didn't staff special education classes. I made a lot of changes to legal documents
(IEPs) at the request of my Principal and with the Integrative Service Center, sometimes with consent of parents, and often, without. We also ran special education team-taught classes with ESL teachers. We ignored a request from a representative of Linda Wernikoff's Office of Special Education Initiatives when she told us to hire a second teacher. An ESL teacher was hired instead. Resource room classes were actually just advisories, were fewer than legally mandated minutes, and after a while, serviced all of the difficult students, overreaching their mandated cap of eight to up to 12 special education and general education students.

We also violated other rules - we had a uniform rule and denied students entrance to the school when they were not wearing their uniform, we offered credits for hours which were not legally seated hours, and we had a lockout rule after 9:15, which meant late students could go home or stay outside until after noon when the dean would let them in. I believe Lane did the same things.

I tried to call the UFT whistle blowers line, but as I was no longer in the school, there was nothing I could do. I tried to forward the whistle blower information to a parent who seemed pretty aggravated by the school last year, but she's now employed or a parent coordinator, so she feels a lot better about her daughter's situation. It was pretty cowardly of me to not call these in when I was there, but I was leaving the school and moving. I was scared that bad news would travel with me and it would jeopardize my career.

When I left, the school directory still said it ran self-contained classes (which it didn't) and I was asked to make the same changes for the incoming class. As far as I know, the ESL teachers are still teaching special education students. The same document changes may be happening right now.

As of my last few weeks there in June, I was still be asked to sign fraudulent special education paperwork by the Brooklyn director of the Integrated Service Center.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Legal Abuse Syndrome and The 3020-a "Trial"

Karin Huffer

Many people throughout the world are victimized by a judicial proceeding that turned out badly, or turned out well but included torture from an abusive judge and/or lawyer, loss of family, career, money, house, and/or health despite a successful end. Everyone is affected by the experience and many are traumatized by it.

The "teachers' trial" 3020-a arbitration is not a trial, people say. It doesn't matter. The trauma of being put into a situation similar to that of being "on trial" is enough to establish a baseline for psychological trauma and post-traumatic stress syndrome.

In May, 2007, I attended a conference on judicial accountability and whistleblower protection in Washington DC and Karen Huffer was there. She is the Editor of a book on Legal Abuse Syndrome, what I am writing about here.

Legal Abuse Syndrome

WARNING: Protracted litigation can be hazardous to your health.

Legal Abuse Syndrome - PTSD

You know you have traumatic stress when:

•Ø there are no words to describe how you feel...
•Ø your heart is saying, I CAN'T STAND TO BE HERE, NOW
•Ø Peace, rest and recuperation are prevented by intrusive thoughts and emotions

Our's is a time of injustice due to ethical violations, legal abuses and Fraud on the Court.

What do we do about it? Also, See "Current Hot Topics."

Legal Abuse Syndrome(LAS) is a psycholegal trauma (a form of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is a psychic injury, not a mental illness. It is a personal injury that develops in individuals assaulted by ethical violations, legal abuses, betrayals, and fraud. Abuse of power and authority and a profound lack of accountability in our courts have become rampant. This adds greatly to the original distress requiring court assistance in the first place.

This stress can and does lead to physical illness. AMA statistics show that around 85% of all physical illness is directly attributable to stress. Legal Abuse Syndrome is a public health menace in this country. It leads to massive medical intervention costs, burdens insurance companies, and adds to Medicare and Social Security costs. Most painfully it shuts down the brilliance and creativity of its sufferers. Legal Abuse Syndrome is detrimental to all of society, and nobody is immune.

Whatever the court setting, whether it is regarding divorce, child custody, parental support, probate matters, personal injury, property disputes, legal or medical malpractice, criminal charges or other deeply personal issues, the frauds put forth in our courts add greatly to the trauma. When litigants are unable to get fair resolution to their issues, when the court dysfunction further adds to the litigant's burden, when no amount of actual case law compels an equitable outcome, litigants suffer often disabling levels of stress. When further attempts to achieve redress fail, litigants display the hallmark signs of Legal Abuse Syndrome(LAS) a subcategory of PTSD.

To Overcome the Devastation of Legal Abuse Syndrome, become empowered, be enabled to function in court, and inspired to continue you may need supportive help:

There is a self-help book - To order your copy of Overcoming the Devastation of Legal Abuse Syndrome, click here.

PTSD treatment is compensable under most health insurance. To learn more about PTSD see

Karin Huffer, MS/MFT, author of Overcoming the Devastation of Legal Abuse Syndrome, has achieved over twenty years of research and experience in diagnosing and treating Legal Abuse Syndrome. She has been an ADA Section 504 Consultant worked with schools, businesses, and the judicial system to provide effective accommodations for those who suffer from disabilities. She has put the groundbreaking new out based upone her research that our judicial system can and does cause traumatic stress in those who seek civilized, fair due process of law and redress of grievances.

Synopsis of Legal Abuse Syndrome

Legal Abuse Syndrome is a 234 page book which discusses the effects of, and steps to recovery from Legal Abuse Syndrome (LAS), which the author has defined as a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder resulting from abusive and protracted litigation.

Anyone subjected to the abuses of the American civil justice system will immediately identify with the cover and quotations appearing on the back cover of the book.

Ms. Huffer begins in the Preface by defining LAS, and in the Introduction identifies seven LAS victims whose stories she has woven into a highly readable self-help book for other victims of LAS. Legal Abuse Syndrome also doubles as a text book for mental health professionals providing therapy to LAS victims.

The book is divided into 10 chapters. Beginning in Chapters 1 and 2, Huffer identifies the symptoms of the LAS victim and the etiology of LAS. These two introductory chapters are followed by 8 chapters in which the author breaks down the Eight Steps to Recovery, consisting of Debriefing, Grieving, Obsession, Blaming, Deshaming, Reframing, Empowerment and Recovery.

Each chapter begins with a relevant quote which sets the stage for the material presented. The book concludes with Maya Angelou's powerful poem, "I rise."


Chapter 1 - "Invisible Hostages" reveals the hostage condition that results from betrayals of trust and the quiet crimes. Symptoms of the hostage-stage psychological reactions are put forth with a list of the white-collar crimes, litigation/judicial atrocities and bureaucratic failings that cumulatively assault victims. The case of James graphically portrays the path from the initial affront through the aftermath of the crime. James went to law enforcement agencies, sued through the courts at huge expense, and found his situation worsened to the point of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Chapter 1 includes one cartoon and two illustrations.

Chapter 2 - "The Epidemic" illustrates the chemical changes that take place in the brain during prolonged victimization. It becomes clear that a profound sense of helplessness in the face of jeopardy causes post traumatic stress disorder. The longer the feeling of helplessness lasts, the more pronounced are the symptoms. Victims find themselves in the symptoms as they relate to their own experiences. James shares that at the time he needed the protection of his judicial system, it betrayed him. He was left unable to obtain justice. Extensive research supports the theory that "psycholegal" post traumatic stress disorder is a common occurrence in litigants and victims of the invisible crimes. The reader can look around and see the "cellophane-wrapped" victims who have moved beyond rage to an implosive, cyclical lifestyle. These victims usually remain invisible. The chapter includes one illustration.

Chapter 3 - "Debriefing" begins the second part of the book, the eight steps to recovery. Debriefing is an activity that the reader can do. It centers around a graphic, processing sheet that delineates losses, feelings and facts. This chapter begins a caring journey. The sense of isolation is relieved in victims as they see their experience(s) begin to take a manageable form. The case of P.J., who broke through denial during debriefing helps us understand how to effectively respond to victims. This chapter also lists "absolutely what not to say to a victim." The chapter includes one illustration and two reader participation graphics.

Chapter 4 - "Grieving" clarifies that loss of trust is the greatest loss known to a human being. The case of Judy demonstrates the profound effect of bureaucratic and law enforcement behavior on a victim. Judy had to face the FBI, the IRS, and court after a betrayal by her husband. Grieving masques as depression (the common cold of mental illness), exhaustion, varied illnesses and conditions. Grieving over loss of property is usually discounted in American culture. "Takings" have become a part of business strategy and are often done through the use of the system. Bankruptcy court, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the IRS effect takings of property without due process. Takings threaten the lifeblood of the nation. The case of John depicts the nebulous nature of grief. It is pushed aside if the loss is not "respectably" large. John breaks down over a tiny tangible issue that, in fact, reflects huge intangible losses. In this chapter we see that the loss of belief systems, trust, and ideals are critical to the loss picture. Each case will show that our protective systems did not function as intended, and inadvertently or by design, intensified the trauma. Legal Abuse Syndrome , a journey Beyond Rage... and Back, articulates that the right to redress in order to prevent losses and to exact recompense is key to a sense of safety and security necessary for mental health.

Chapter 5 - "Obsession" leads us toward a sense of control over our lives again. Readers become aware that obsession is a natural response to victimization. Randomization is a difficult concept to grasp in life. When good people are assaulted and left unaffirmed by their culture's systems, life proceeds on a path with no moral compass - no guide to safety. A list of obsessive styles is characterized by descriptive names, i.e. "Lifeguard," obsesses around health; where as an "Inventorier" counts and accounts for all belongings, endlessly. What to do about easing obsession is listed with case examples. A sense of humor interweaves as victims look at their obsessive selves with acceptance.

Chapter 6 - "Blaming" faces victim-blaming head on. Society discourages blaming; therefore, victims are praised for taking responsibility for the awful things that happen to them. Further, victims often see little recourse once blame is established. Attribution is a necessary step toward justice because it reinforces the moral code. This chapter gives a victim a graphic for assessing degrees of blame and then enriches the reader with specific blaming actions dramatized by James and the other cases. Barriers to blaming are explored, such as guilt and societal pressure. There is a self-blame checklist followed by the danger of self blame. Revenge and punishment are contrasted with appropriate, quality blaming actions which drive behavior toward the moral code. Those ignored, outrageous assaults by attorneys and the systems, such as slander and character assassination in the courtroom and denied right to redress, are listed at the end of the chapter. Victims begin to feel that they are not crazy or at fault. This chapter includes a reader participation check list.

Chapter 7 - "Deshaming" offers a totally unique approach to understanding human motivation in terms of power. A continuum is presented which ranks a person's motivating force as either conscience-based or power-based. Human interactions can be visualized as on a grid. The conscience-based person is often victimized even though he may have spiritual power. Power-based people are motivated by envy and a need for superior posture. Lying is a key tool of the power motivated person. Lying wins over truth. Here is where violation of the moral code is "business as usual" for some and an outrage to others. Shame is known to the conscience-based person,who often absorbs shame from the violator as well. A tournament of the game, "Prisoner's Dilemma," is used as an example of strategies that help conscience-based people learn to identify and cope with power-based individuals. Specific skills are taught regarding cooperation, competition, and self-protection. Thus, to free them from shame, the readers are able to relinquish undeserved shame and to follow guiding principles for modification of their belief systems. The case of Manny exemplifies the predicament and the process for deshaming. The chapter includes two illustrations.

Chapter 8 - "Reframing" is the pivotal procedure that embarks upon recovery. All five steps leading to reframing are required to effectively achieve this phase. The victim shifts from a painful perception of self to a new, open, morally sound and personally inspired view of himself. There is an LAS Reframe Exercise which allows the painful issue to come forth. Then the pain is put to the reframe steps. The victim might say, "I was a fool." Reframed, the victim will say, "I was a trustworthy person, I believed that others were largely trustworthy too." Then the victim searches for the wisdom gained from the experience. The chapter includes one reader participation checklist.

Chapter 9 - "Empowerment" more than anything, brings a fresh approach for legal and bureaucratic problem solving to the ordinary person. Steps are blueprints: 1) seek and destroy misinformation, 2) from pragmatic expectations, 3) avoid the predictable, 4) persevere, 5) use mental toughness, 6) become a vigilante consumer, 7) call a crime a crime. Misinformation is a strategic tool used by abusers of the justice systems. It crushes the force of truth distorting the course towards justice. Oppression thrives on misinformation. Empowerment requires effective attacks on misinformation through official channels. The predictable path is owned by the power-centered. They travel ahead and prepare to take the conscience-centered person out at every turn. Victims need each other and creative approaches. This chapter ties into Appendix B which contains a host of resources. Eleven tools and techniques are presented. Rules and regulations of an institution are usually broken by those who abuse from within the organization. Finding those violations empowers a victim tremendously. Mental toughness is the ability to never lose focus regardless of attacks or diversions. Vigilante consumers focus on the real bottom line in America, the consumer. When crimes occur, they must be treated as crimes and dealt with by consumers who keep the focus on the real bottom line. The chapter contains one graphic.

Chapter 10 - "Recovery" brings perspective. Victims become veterans who have an important function in correcting societal wrongs. Readers are brought up to date by parting words from the victims whose cases were portrayed in the book. It becomes apparent that recovery is not a destination but a journey wherein the eight steps are incorporated into a renewed lifestyle. Forgiveness and restoration are discussed as quite separate issues from recovery. Veterans are no longer cellophane-wrapped hostages but are back in the game of life, risking once more. Trust as a staple, societal issue is explored in the context of LAS being a totally preventable assault to the mental health of our nation.

In the Conclusion , Ms. Huffer thanks her patients who have trusted her and taught her that there is an invisible fabric woven of American character found in the ordinary person. It is an invitation for these victims who refused to be soul-murdered to lead the nation back into a future of hope, trust and a code of American conduct that they represent to quietly. The Epilogue contains a snapshot of an LAS victim that has been driven beyond rage.

The book includes a Bibliography which cites referenced and related works included as well as a Glossary of terms used in the book.

Appendix A defines clinical post traumatic stress disorder.

Appendix B - Resources for the Empowerment of the Ordinary Person. This appendix provides the LAS victim with a list of organizations dedicated to legal reform and victim rights.

Appendix C - Victims-Witness Protection Act of 1984.

Appendix D contains worksheets to be used in conjunction with the book.

The following pages contain the Preface and Introduction as they appear in the actual book.


* If you are deeply disillusioned and feeling oppressed as an American Citizen, resulting from experience with our justice system, you may be suffering from Legal Abuse Syndrome.
* If you've been a litigant in court and justice was not to be obtained at any price, you may be suffering from Legal Abuse Syndrome.
* If you fantasize an act of vigilante vengeance because it seems like the only recourse, you may be suffering from Legal Abuse Syndrome.
* If you've reported a crime and found that you were punished instead of the criminal, you may be suffering from Legal Abuse Syndrome.
* If creativity and dreams have been left in the past because their development was ripped from you and torn to shreds by your protective systems, you may be suffering from Legal Abuse Syndrome.
* If you feel numb, disconnected, and vulnerable, you may be suffering from Legal Abuse Syndrome.
* If you feel that you have been victimized twice, once by a perpetrator and then by your protective system, you may be suffering from Legal Abuse Syndrome.

Some will deny that Legal Abuse Syndrome (LAS) exists. They will remind us that we have an adversarial system of justice. Abuses will be written off as adversaries battling for their clients. Victims will be nothing more than casualties of a "fight for justice." Others will worry that victims of LAS will want compensation for their psychological injuries. Skeptics will ask, "Aren't LAS victims just malingerers wanting more from the system?"

I do not indict the legal profession, fine judges and hard working public servants. I applaud those who serve their clients well in any milieu. We do not bash any organization or profession in this book. Lawyers, judges, FBI agents, police officers and investigators have all crossed my private practice and helped me to delineate the abuse of power that permeates every profession. Many of these professionals are themselves invisible victims also and need the support of the public.

Abusers are studied in this book as a method of exposing to LAS victims the predicament that oppresses them. The systems are explored in the light of victims' experiences. The psycholegal condition is revealed along with skills to help the victim cope with abusers of his systems. The scope is a large one for a marriage and family therapist or or fellow victim to tackle. It may feel unwieldy and threatening to the reader. However, reading and rereading has produced results and has motivated me to risk a big project and perhaps an unpopular one in behalf of those invisible victims who can heal in spite of systems without a cure.

A firm warning to those who would use the following material to damage or discredit any citizen in any manner:


No one likes to think of himself as a victim. Immediately, it conjures an image of a loser or someone making poor life-choices. Yet, in spite of resistance to facing our victimization, legal abuses have become common. When abuses occur, victims are created. We either have to face that we are victimized or accept an aberration to civilized living as being "just the way it is".

Laws provide for courts, agencies, law enforcement bureaucracies, and regulatory services. We depend on them to resolve our disputes and to protect our cherished rights. When they fail, our nation must deal with the victims and vigilantes left in the wake of officially sanctioned wrongdoing.

In this book, we will explore cases that are shocking and fascinating. They illustrate abuses perpetrated by our legally instituted protective systems and the pain and suffering that results. Citizens are driven "Beyond Rage." However startling and moving our cases may be, we have only touched a segment of their lives and experiences. Each case has left unrevealed depth of trauma and complication that would be prohibitive in space and time to write about in one book.

This work results from my experiences of the past twenty years as a marriage and family therapist in private practice. Throughout my career, a certain discomfort gnawed at me regarding clients who attended my various groups and seminars. While the seminars dealt with the subjects of codependency, substance abuse, parenting, divorce adjustment, assertiveness, stress, or whatever the current topic dictated, there always remained the walking wounded. Those were clients, whose true source of pain was not recognized by family or friends. Worse, it was never clearly defined by helping professionals. With no diagnosis, their condition could not be targeted for treatment. Invisible trauma nebulously danced around the topics, never to be healed in these hungry participants.

It wasn't until a white-collar crime was perpetrated on my family that I saw these walking wounded with uncomfortably opened eyes. After nearly a decade of struggling with the justice system, and working with other such victims,I have concluded that the enormous betrayals and inefficiencies that make up bureaucratic post-crime experiences, are literally attacking the emotional health of this nation. Victims have no satisfying place to turn. Rage accumulates and its sequelae have reached epidemic proportions.

A therapist must, of course, check such observations against the danger of inaccurately projecting onto a client personal feelings or attitudes that go beyond the therapeutic use of self. I have done that. Even more uncomfortably now, i see the massive validation of my theory by participants in the "Beyond Rage" seminars. Still theoretical, but deadly serious, is the thesis of this book that victims in America are, first, assaulted by crime and, secondly, by abuses of power and authority administered by the systems their tax dollars support to provide due process of law. In short, they get a "double whammy."

People of principle find their decency, trustworthiness, responsibility, and use of their courts trounced by systems that perpetrate judicial and bureaucratic atrocities. Americans, who follow a code of conscience, encounter a profound imbalance between the abuses of power perpetrated by those entrusted with the systems and the prohibitive conscience of the ordinary person to violation of values and laws. At the heart of this book is the threatened psychic underpinning of the American citizen which is tied into the Constitutionally protected rights that we depend upon. To imperil the basic freedoms, which Americans are taught are their birthright, is to jeopardize conditions of trust and safety necessary for a healthy, productive life.

Victims challenge the finest of counseling techniques. The lack of closure combines with prolonged, cruel, and unusual punishment exerted by the court system. Ongoing strain of litigation then interfaces with psychological issues. Diagnoses are tricky and dynamic. Healing techniques and strategies are interrupted by the trauma of the proceedings or behaviors of court personnel. Stress reduction training is of marginal value for a litigant who will regularly be administered another dose of outrage. The best of family intervention is defeated if the family court renders a visitation arrangement that destroys continuity in the raising of the children or if the current custodial parent is harassed and stalked, unprotected by the law enforcement system.

Outrage is tough enough. Beyond rage is terribly painful territory. I caution the reader that to earnestly use this self-help material for healing purposes will be challenging. On the other hand, if you choose to stay beyond rage, you exist in a type of living death. So victims of the systems are caught between a tough place and a really hard place. Go slowly, get involved in groups, if possible, but don't let your lifeblood be stripped from you without a fight. This book will help to get you back on your fighting feet. You won't change massive systems or reform your country in all likelihood. However, when all of the trauma has been processed, you will become an empowered, effective individual again.

More and more, helping professionals are being confronted by "psycholegal" issues. Patients are driven beyond rage over an extended period of time during which victims travel an isolated road. The impact of the invisible assaults usually are ignored.

Vigilante violence results when the needs of the majority are not being met by the systems (Tucker). What of the gentle and decent person who values a law abiding mode of life? Unless the unique needs of these victims are identified and healing processes made accessible to them, the cost in pain, suffering, disillusionment, and shutdown of creativity to the individual and society is immeasurable.

Karin Pearson Huffer

© 2010

Commercial Law Bulletin

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The NYC Teacher Acute Stress Syndrome

For six years I have been invited to attend 3020-a hearings of teachers as "the general public" basically to keep a teacher/friend going through his/her "arbitration-trial" sane, focused, and able to testify. I have willingly donated thousands of hours of volunteer time to sit in the rooms of the sixth floor at 51 Chambers street while evidence is presented by the NYC Board of Education "Gotcha Squad" because there is a huge injustice going on and I am the person who will document what is going on for all of you. I am your eyes.

The process of getting rid of "bad" or incompetent teachers is completely broken. Joel Klein and Mike Bloomberg have tried for almost eight years to alter the reality of those people who work for the NYC Board of Education ("NYC BOE") into thinking that Constitutional rights to due process, the right to face your accuser, the rights to freedom of speech, assembly, religion, to be free from discrimination, and all the other rights that we all learned about when we were young, are not available, different, removed for expediency, and you are simply wrong to think that, etc.

Followers of this line of thinking use threats, your former colleague, your best friend, or someone you trust, to turn against you and end your world as you know it. Suddenly you trust no one. And you feel alone, isolated. Thoughts come to you that this has never happened to anyone else, and you think that you are the only one ever attacked by everyone you know. Everyone becomes suspect, and you no longer trust close friends and family.

Even if you know that you are an excellent teacher/guidance counselor/professional you begin to have doubts. Maybe you are not as good as you thought. Maybe your dislike for "X,Y or Z" has come out, and you were unsuccessful at hiding it and must be punished. Maybe.....


The Principals and administrators in your school are supposed to terrify you. They are supposed to lead you to believe that you are incompetent, and alter your reality. You know who you are. You know that if you have been a terrible teacher for 20 years, you should retire/resign. You know that if you are a dedicated teacher who cares, you must fight off the people who would lead you to doubt yourself,and all you have to do is stick to the facts.

But you are stressed to the point of a breakdown. Every time you walk into your school or into the workplace to which you are assigned, your heart starts beating faster...your hands get sweaty, you begin to think that you cannot breathe.

You are reacting normally to the situation. You are not alone. Some people call it "Traumatic stress syndrome" and other people call it "Post-traumatic stress disorder" (see below).

Whatever you call it, it is a well-known phenomenon, and you have become part of a group who have experienced exactly what you are experiening. You are not alone.

You do not have to feel embarrassed by your feelings of helplessness. You are not a victim.

Dont become one (a victim), but fight for yourself, your career, and your future.

Threats are a sign a weakness, I think. Someone who screams threats at you is unable to support anything he/she says, so all he/she can do is scream, threaten and try to make you a victim.

Dont fall for it.

As I wrote above, you know who you are.

Betsy Combier
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter

Kenneth Westhues, University of Waterloo
The Mobbing Portal: Resources For Teachers

"Ganging up to collectively humiliate and exclude an individual is normally associated with swarms of children in the schoolyard. Teachers, presumably, act responsibly and logically, intervening in such situations. Ironically, similar acts of social violence take place within the walls of the staffroom. Workplace mobbing in schools is an unfortunate reality. The resources in this section deal specifically with mobbing in educational settings."

A summary of research on workplace mobbing published in OHS Canada, Canada's Occupational Health & Safety Magazine, Vol. 18, No. 8, December 2002, pp. 30-36. Published on the web, January 2003.

In the early 1980s, a Swedish psychologist named Heinz Leymann identified a grave threat to health and safety in what appear to be the healthiest, safest workplaces in the world. German was Leymann’s first language, Swedish his second, but he labeled the distinct menace he had found with an English word: mobbing.

Over the next twenty years, news of Leymann’s (pictured at right) discovery spread

across Europe and beyond. Untranslated, the English name he gave it entered the vocabulary of workplace relations throughout Scandinavia and in Germany, Italy, and other countries. All across Europe, not only specialists in occupational health but managers, union leaders, and the public at large came to recognize workplace mobbing as a real, measurable kind of harm, a destroyer of health and life.

Strangely, recognition of Leymann’s discovery has been slower in coming to the English-speaking world. Newsweek published a popular summary of research on workplace mobbing in 2000, but only in its European edition. In Britain and America, attention has focussed less on mobbing than on the different but related problem of bullying, and, occasionally, on one of its extremely rare possible results: the outbursts of extreme violence, that from time to time make headlines across the country.

Workplace mobbing was almost never discussed in Canada until the coroner's inquest following the murder of four workers at OC Transpo in Ottawa in 1999. In that case, a former employee, Pierre Lebrun, had ended the shooting spree by also taking his own life. It turned out that Lebrun had been ridiculed relentlessly by co-workers for his stutter, and then, after he had slapped one of them in retaliation, been forced to apologize to his tormentors. Had Lebrun been mobbed at work? Was this the phenomenon Leymann had in mind? Media reports and the inquest itself tentatively said it was.

In 2000 and 2001, The National Post publicized my research on mobbing in the academic workplace, the process by which even tenured professors are ganged up on, humiliated, and run out of their jobs. While trying to make sense of some bizarre and hugely destructive university conflicts in 1994, I had stumbled upon Leymann’s work and found it powerfully illuminating of the data in my files.

In the meanwhile, the concept of workplace mobbing caught the attention of the Ontario Nurses Association, the College Institute Educators Association of British Columbia, and a smattering of other union and management groups, which then sponsored workshops on the topic, much as occurred in Germany a decade earlier.

The trauma of being mobbed

To describe mobbing as possibly the gravest threat most workers face is not to ignore threats posed by slippery floors, dangerous machines, toxic chemicals, and the other material hazards that health and safety committees properly make their top priority.

In practical terms, however, the worst kind of harm most Canadians have to fear at work is the kind that arises from faulty human relations, some kind of glitch in how people treat one another. Montreal researcher Hans Selye won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1964, for the best single-word description of today’s main workplace ills: stress. This short English word struck a chord in both the scientific community and the public, as mobbing would decades later, and quickly found its way into other languages. By now, research has shown in a thousand ways the stark, even lethal effects of too much of the wrong kind of stress on physical and mental health.

Mobbing can be understood as the stressor to beat all stressors. It is an impassioned, collective campaign by co-workers to exclude, punish, and humiliate a targeted worker. Initiated most often by a person in a position of power or influence, mobbing is a desperate urge to crush and eliminate the target. The urge travels through the workplace like a virus, infecting one person after another. The target comes to be viewed as absolutely abhorrent, with no redeeming qualities, outside the circle of acceptance and respectability, deserving only of contempt. As the campaign proceeds, a steadily larger range of hostile ploys and communications comes to be seen as legitimate.

Mobbing is hardly the only source of debilitating stress at work, and it was not the only one on which Leymann did research. He interviewed bank employees who had undergone the terror of armed robbery, and subway drivers who had watched helplessly as their trains ran over persons who fell or jumped onto the tracks. Leymann documented the depression, absenteeism, sleeplessness, and other symptoms of trauma resulting from such stressful experiences.

Bank robberies and subway suicides were no match, however, for being mobbed by co-workers in the personal devastation that ensued. Not infrequently, mobbing spelled the end of the target’s career, marriage, health, and livelihood. From a study of circumstances surrounding suicides in Sweden, Leymann estimated that about twelve percent of people who take their own lives have recently been mobbed at work.

How it happens

Mobbing is relatively rare, and many workplaces hum along for decades without a single case of it. But by Leymann’s and others' estimates, between two and five percent of adults are mobbed sometime during their working lives. The other 95 percent, involved in the process only as observers, bystanders, or perpetrators (though occasionally also as rescuers or guardians of the target), mostly deny, gloss over, and forget the mobbing cases in which they took part. That is one reason it has taken so long for the phenomenon to be identified and researched.

That children and teenagers sometimes join in collectively humiliating one of their number is well known--most people can cite examples from their own school days. The widely publicized deaths of two girls in British Columbia–Reena Virk, beaten and drowned in 1999, and Dawn Marie Wesley, driven to suicide in 2000–have heightened public awareness of the cruel reality of swarming or collective bullying among both girls and boys.

Leymann’s contribution was to document beyond any doubt the same reality among adults, even in the cool, rational, professional, bureaucratic, policy-governed setting of a workplace. The tactics differ. Workplace mobbing is normally carried out politely, without any violence, and with ample written documentation. Yet even without the blood, the bloodlust is essentially the same: contagion and mimicking of unfriendly, hostile acts toward the target; relentless undermining of the target’s self-confidence; group solidarity against one whom all agree does not belong; and the euphoria of collective attack.(Emphasis added - editor)

An example from a factory

One of the cases that first opened my eyes to workplace mobbing serves also to illustrate related concepts commonly but mistakenly applied. A former student of mine asked if he and his wife could meet with me. She was being sexually harassed, he said, in the factory where she had worked for most of her adult life.

The label this woman and her husband had placed on her problem fit the facts they presented to me. She was regularly paired for certain tasks with a male co-worker who day after day humiliated her with insults to her work and degrading sexual slurs. Years earlier, when she had threatened to report him to the boss, he had grabbed her arm in a threatening manner.

Yet as this shy, soft-spoken lady shared more facts with me, sexual harassment appeared to be a very partial characterization of her predicament. She had in fact complained to both union and management about the man's offensive behavior, but to no avail. She and her husband were at wit’s end. The leader of the union was a paragon of political correctness. A zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment was posted where all could see. Yet her harasser carried on as before.

Explanation could be found only in the larger dynamics of the work group. This woman ranked at the bottom of the pecking order. She was apart from her workmates in three crucial ways. First, she had a partial disability, the result of an accident at work years before, that under terms of the collective agreement precluded her doing certain jobs. For want of physical dexterity, she was exempt from tasks at which everybody else took a turn. She was also paid at an hourly rate, while most others were on piecework.

Second, though most workers in the group were from immigrant groups, this woman was from a different one than everybody else. Ethnically, she was a minority of one.

Third, while most of her peers sprinkled their speech with obscenities, took crude banter in stride, and seemed to thrive on a relatively coarse workplace culture, this woman did not. She was devoted to her family and her faith.

These and other factors made her an outcast. Her problem was far worse than one man’s harassment and bullying. It was the humiliation of daily loathing by her peers. What drove her over the edge were comments from two female co-workers on a hot summer day when job assignments were being rotated. One called out so that all could hear, “I don’t want to work with the cripple.” Another, distributing sweatbands to combat the heat, passed this worker by saying, “You don’t work hard enough to get one.”

At that point, this veteran of years of co-workers' hostility began crying then and could not stop. She was taken to the nurse, who sent her home. Her husband took her to the hospital emergency room. She was diagnosed with clinical depression and placed on sick leave. She returned to work months later, was again paired with the man who led the harassment and later suffered a severe heart attack. The formal grievances she had lodged were resolved with her early retirement about ten years after the mobbing began.

The case illustrates the escalation that is essential to workplace mobbing. Each higher level of authority, in both company and union, to which this woman and her husband appealed, was faced with overturning the will of a successively larger group of subordinates. Steadily more and higher-level employees over time voiced the common sentiment: this woman is impossible to work with, she has to go.

Mobbing was exacerbated in this case by its leader's special status in the group. Some female workers found him sexy. He had connections for getting cigarettes and alcohol tax-free, and in this way had forged semi-secret ties with other employees. Acting in the role of chief eliminator, he led the campaign to rob one partially disabled worker of her job, her dignity, and her health. The process took years, but it eventually achieved its aim.

Mobbing versus other exits

Why didn’t this factory worker quit? In the answer to this question lie clues to why mobbing is more common in some employment situations than others. Mobbing rarely happens to a worker who can easily relocate to a different employer.

Mobbing is also rare in the case of workers on at-will contracts, since they can be summarily fired. A manager faced with ten subordinates who get along and get work done reasonably well, all of whom despise a certain other subordinate and want to be rid of him or her, ordinarily heeds the collective will. If for some reason the manager does not, there is conflict but not mobbing, since opinion about the acceptability of the worker in question is divided.

Further, in situations where a worker can be terminated only for cause, mobbing seldom occurs if legitimate cause exists. On the basis of clear evidence of substandard performance or serious misconduct, workers are routinely terminated–firmly, but often with compassion and regret.

The worker most vulnerable to being mobbed is an average or high achiever who is personally invested in a formally secure job, but who nonetheless somehow threatens or puts to shame co-workers and/or managers. Such a worker provides no legally defensible grounds for termination, yet usually fails to pick up subtle hints and leave voluntarily. An attractive solution, from the majority point of view, is to bring or wear this worker down, one way or another, however long it takes.

As the process drags on, both sides, collective and individual, dig in their heels. It is often as if the targeted worker has grabbed a hot wire and cannot let go, despite the pain and injury it inflicts. The worker’s investment of self and sense of having been deeply wronged prevent the one resolution that would satisfy the other side.

Ironically, it is in workplaces where workers’ rights are formally protected that the complex and devious incursions on human dignity that constitute mobbing most commonly occur. Union shops are one example, as in the case of the factory worker described above. University faculties are another, on account of the special protections of tenure and academic freedom professors have. It happens in police forces, too, since management rights in this setting are tempered by the oath officers swear to uphold the law. Mobbings appear to be much more frequent in the public service as a whole, as compared to private companies.

Mobbing also appears to be more common in the professional service sector–such as education and health care–where work is complex, goals ambiguous, best practices debatable, and market discipline far away. Scapegoating is an effective if temporary means of achieving group solidarity, when it cannot be achieved in a more constructive way. It is a turning inward, a diversion of energy away from serving nebulous external purposes toward the deliciously clear, specific goal of ruining a disliked co-worker's life.

What to do about it

As a clinician, Leymann made his priority the healing of post-traumatic stress in those most severely affected by mobbing. With the support of the Swedish health service, he opened a clinic for mobbing victims in 1994, and published detailed research on the first 64 patients treated there. That clinic no longer exists and Leymann himself died in 1999, but 200 patients are currently treated in a similar clinic that opened in Saarbruecken, Germany, this year.

Competent, well-informed treatment of the many mobbing targets who suffer mental breakdown is obviously in order, especially since they have often in the past been misdiagnosed as having paranoid delusions.

Psychiatric injury, however, is but one possible harmful result of being mobbed. Some mobbing targets keep their sanity but succumb to cardiovascular disease–hypertension, heart attack, or stroke. Most suffer loss of income and reputation. Marital breakdown and isolation from friends and family are also common outcomes.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, although experts do not agree on the ingredients of the desired ounce. Believers in human perfectibility favor enacting laws and policies that forbid workplace mobbing under pain of punishment. Organizations as diverse as Volkswagen in Germany and the Department of Environmental Quality in the American state of Oregon already have anti-mobbing policies in place. It is too soon to say what effect, if any, such policies will have on the incidence of the phenomenon.

The impulse to gang up, to join with others against what is perceived to be a common threat, lies deep in human nature. It is not easily outlawed. A policy forbidding it may, in practice, become a weapon for convicting some mobbing target of a punishable offense and thereby aiding in his or her humiliation. The evidence is clear by now that policies against sexual harassment have often been used as tools for harassing innocent but disliked workmates. Anti-mobbing policies may turn out to be even more versatile tools for such mischief.

The tiny percentage of mobbing victims–like Pierre Lebrun–who lash back in violent attack would probably have lived out their lives peaceably and productively had they been spared the excruciating pain of relentless humiliation.

All can agree, at least, on the desirability of public awareness of the vital but sad discovery Heinz Leymann made two decades ago, and on the continuing need for careful, critical scholarship that builds on his. The better we understand ourselves, including our darker impulses, the more able we are to keep one another healthy and safe.

For further reading, see the easy-to-read, practical paperback: Noa Davenport, Ruth Schwartz, and Gail Elliott, Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace (Ames, Iowa: Civil Society Publishing, 1999).

Heinz Leymann's original website continues to be maintained.

The Rubber Room
Breaking The Silence
The Mobbing Encyclopedia