D.C. Backs Acting Head Of Child Services

By Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 21, 2008

District officials yesterday defended the appointment of Roque Gerald as interim director of the city's embattled Child and Family Services Agency, despite recent revelations that in 1989 the psychologist had sex with a suicidal and depressed patient who later sued him for damages.

Peter Nickles, the District's interim attorney general, and council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), whose Human Services Committee oversees the agency, said that Gerald's record since the incident transcends his "mistake" and that he will shepherd the agency past struggles with child deaths and caseload management.

"If you look at his career since 1989, it's been very distinguished. It seemed to me that this wasn't a disqualifying factor. His résumé has been quite amazing," Nickles said. Gerald might not have been appointed "if it happened five years ago and he didn't have the record he did," Nickles added.

Nearly 20 years ago, in February 1989, Gerald, a licensed clinical psychologist with Center Psychologists Ltd., had sex in his office with a woman he was counseling. The woman, whose emotional history included suicide attempts, later sued Gerald, alleging that he "overcame her will so that she was unable to act with volition," according to her lawsuit.

The case reached the Virginia Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of Gerald's patient and declared that the case merited a jury trial. William Burnside, the patient's attorney, said yesterday in an interview that Gerald's employer paid her in a settlement and that the amount is confidential.

Gerald could not be reached to comment yesterday. Mindy Good, spokeswoman for the city's Child and Family Services Agency, referred all comments to the mayor's office. When asked for an interview, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) was "unavailable," according to his spokeswoman, who referred all comments to Nickles.

The disclosure of Gerald's history was first reported Friday by the newspaper Youth Today.

Nickles said he learned of the incident while he was vetting Gerald, who, he said, voluntarily acknowledged the incident. "I asked him, 'Is there anything I should know?' and he said, 'There was this unfortunate incident,' " Nickles said. "I thought it was very commendable" that he came forward with the information without "my raising it."

Wells said that over the weekend Gerald told him about the incident but believes that enough time has passed and that the transgression was not as significant as others. "While it's a serious offense, I appreciate that it's not child abuse or neglect," Wells said. "Twenty years has passed without further incident and seeming exemplary service."

Burnside, the patient's attorney, said the woman, who at the time was in her late 20s and worked in the kitchen of a children's summer camp, was in a therapy session with Gerald when the two had sex in his office.

"In any relationship with a professional, be it a lawyer, minister, physician or therapist, the patient or client is presumably placing their trust in the individual to assist in resolving . . . a problem," Burnside said. "This was a position of trust that was violated."

Maybe it would have been more ethical, he said, "had it been six months after therapy and they met out at some bar and then it leads to something else. But this was on the premises, during a therapy session."

Gerald was named the agency's interim director this month, replacing Sharlynn E. Bobo who resigned after many controversies. In January, four girls were found dead in a family's Southeast home, despite warnings to the agency. In recent weeks, the agency has also been forced to investigate the deaths of two infants.

It remains unclear whether Gerald wants the agency's top job permanently. "I think if he decides to be a more permanent candidate, he may run into more concern that he's not a social worker," Wells said.

Gerald, formerly the agency's deputy director, has been influential in shaping the city's social-work policies, Wells said. He helped institute new guidelines to help place children in new homes that involve multiple relatives and friends and not just the social worker, Wells said.

When Gerald was appointed interim director, Wells said he was impressed with his priorities to hire more social workers. "I appreciate he didn't seem reluctant to ask the mayor for what he needed," Wells said.

In February, it was announced that Gerald was elected to the board of directors of the American Humane Association, a national organization dedicated to the protection of children and animals.

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