Last January, we wrote about the anti-male bias many people perceive in family court. Part of the story dealt with a veteran mental health counselor named Douglas Bartholomew, who provided a damning court-ordered assessment of a man accused of abusing his wife--an assessment one judge said was the worst he had seen in his 22 years on the bench.
Thanks to a Department of Health action just made public, Bartholomew will no longer conduct such assessments in domestic violence cases, once a mainstay of his practice. The assessments are key to family court cases because they often determine whether someone (usually a man) accused of domestic violence can see his children and under what conditions. And as we we reported last year, allegations of abuse are common, and sometimes used strategically, in contentious divorce cases.The case that led to a DOH investigation concerned a man dubbed in our story as "Richard." In his report, Bartholomew said that he couldn't determine whether Richard had assaulted his wife. Yet the counselor described the man, a successful engineer, as suffering from a variety of obscure-sounding psychological problems, including an inability to describe himself and his son in an "I-Thou manner." Bartholomew judged that the man posed "some risk of further psychological abuse" and recommended he go through a domestic violence treatment program.
Last fall, the DOH released a statement of allegations against Bartholomew that called the counselors assessment "unprofessional and biased." For one thing, the counselor had opined that the abuse allegations made against Richard were merely the "tip of the iceberg" without any "supporting evidence," according to the DOH statement.
The DOH statement also noted that the counselor spent much more time interviewing Richard than his wife, something that you might suppose would lead to a favorable outcome for Richard. But the husband's point of view did not exactly come across in Bartholomew's report, in part because the counselor misquoted Richard, according to the statement. Richard described his wife as exhibiting various controlling behaviors, but in Bartholomew's assessment, the behaviors were mysteriously attributed to Richard.
Bartholomew has not admitted any of the allegations. But he has agreed to something called a "stipulation of informal disposition," which was made public by the DOH last week. That stipulation is responsible for stripping Bartholomew of domestic violence cases, meaning he can neither write assessments for the court nor testify as an expert witness. Bartholomew can continue to practice as a counselor, but he must be monitored for at least two years, according to the stipulation. He is also obligated to refund Bartholomew the money he charged Richard when assessing him.
Bartholomew has not yet responded to a request for comment. But in an interview last year, he painted himself as a victim of a "homegrown hate group of men ...whose stated intention is to destroy the [domestic-violence] intervention system."
As for Richard, he declares himself pleased by the result. "I wasn't expecting this level of severity," he says, adding that he hopes counselors will get the message that there can be consequences for falsely portraying men as abusers.