The Counsellor's Corner
Earlier this week I read with dismay a story indicating that a psychologist testifying in the "Jenny Jones Show Murder Trial" testified that the show, and therefore Ms. Jones, was responsible for the death in this case.
For those of you who are not up on your talk show happenings, an individual named Jonathan Schmitz killed a gay man named Scott Amedure after they both appeared on an episode of the Jenny Jones show entitled, "Secret Admirers." Mr. Schmitz had hoped his admirer would be an attractive woman and was rather dismayed to find a smiling Mr. Amedure.
Unfortunately, Mr. Schmitz' embarrassment led him to decide to shoot Mr. Amedure three days after the show was taped.
The criminal trial yielded a conviction for Mr. Schmitz who was found guilty of second-degree murder; however, his conviction was recently overturned and his matter is set to be retried again in August. In the meantime, the family of Mr. Amedure is suing the Jenny Jones Show and its distributor for the tidy sum of Fifty Million Dollars.
Apparently the point the psychologist wanted to make is that the Jenny Jones Show should be found negligent for not appropriately screening its guests for mental illnesses before having them on the show. Their theory is that Mr. Schmitz was so upset by that which had transpired that he felt his life was ruined and his subsequent depression and paranoia, on top of his initial mental and emotional problems, led to his shooting of Mr. Amedure.
While I am certainly sympathetic to the Amedure family, this is absolutely ridiculous. The television show did not kill Scott Amedure, Jonathan Schmitz did. It really is that simple.
As an attorney and a therapist, I am offended by this lawsuit as a member of both professions. As an attorney, the appropriate individual to sue would be Mr. Schmitz, not a television show and the corporation which does the distribution, however the attorney will always look for where the money is and the "deep pockets" in this case are not being worn by Mr. Schmitz.
As a therapist, listening to a psychologist come in and testify that this is in some way the fault of the show for not appropriately screening their guests is flat out offensive.
If Jerry Springer had to screen his guests for mental health, he would have a nightly one-man show (at most). Then again, that might be a good thing.
What about game shows? If a contestant got trounced on Jeopardy and decided he didn't like the competitor to his right who nailed Final Jeopardy and was just named new Jeopardy champion and he followed that individual to his car and killed him; does that mean it is time to sue Jeopardy and Alex Trebec? Is Bob Barker now at risk if The Showcase Showdown doesn't work out on the Price is Right?
Unfortunately, you can always find a lawyer to take your case, no matter how ludicrous it is and in this case it is a lawyer with a reputation, Jeffrey Figar, the attorney who successfully represented Jack Kevorkian on several occasions. Similarly, you can always find a psychologist who will testify to that which you wish as appears to be the case here with the therapist testifying on behalf of the family of the deceased.
This has to stop sometime, somewhere. I look forward to the day when a lawyer looks at the person sitting across from him in his office and says, "No, your case is without merit and I don't want to represent you." I also look forward to the day when there won't always be a psychologist ready for hire to testify to something as ridiculous as this murder being the fault of Jenny Jones and her show for inadequately screening their guests.
Unfortunately, I will probably be waiting for a very long time.
Dr. Charles J. Unger is a criminal defense attorney in the Glendale law firm of Flanagan, Booth & Unger, and a therapist at the Foothill Centre for Personal and Family Growth. Mr. Unger writes a bimonthly column on legal and psychological issues.