The executive director of a controversial Norcross drug rehabilitation facility with strong ties to the Church of Scientology has been slapped with court sanctions that strip her of her defense in a case accusing Narconon of negligence and fraud in the death of a young Florida man who sought treatment there under court order in 2008.
Patrick Desmond, 28, was ordered by a drug court in Brevard County, FL, to undergo drug treatment. His parents wanted him in a private alternative program. With only 72-hours to choose, they found Narconon of Georgia in Norcross. Rick and Colleen Desmond said they were duped by Narconon’s Executive Director Mary Rieser and other employees at the facility into believing that it was an inpatient rehab center where Patrick would be monitored 24-hours a day, seven days a week. In fact, Narconon of Georgia was licensed only as an outpatient facility.
Patrick, like other Narconon patients, was housed in a Sandy Springs apartment complex that his family now alleges was rife with drug and alcohol abuse. In a lawsuit chronicled by News/Talk WSB last month, his parents state that Patrick got drunk with Narconon employees, and then decided to try heroin for the first time. Within 24 hours, he was dead of an overdose.
After filing suit in May of 2010, the Desmonds have spent two years trying to find answers about how and why Patrick died. Their lawyer said he is frustrated because at every turn, he has met with resistance, deception and disappearing evidence.
“There were documents that we asked for in discovery and they… said ‘We don’t have any such documents,’” said the Desmonds’ attorney, Jeff Harris. “We determined later that they do. There clearly were documents that were responsive to the written discovery requests, which you have to respond to under oath, that had never been produced before. We had to find out about them other ways.”
Judge Stacey Hydrick also concluded that Narconon Executive Director Mary Rieser lied in as many as ten depositions when she “repeatedly failed to produce, and on multiple occasions falsely denied the existence of clearly relevant, responsive documents and information.”
Finally, Hydrick concluded that, when she asked Rieser on the stand about the omissions and false declarations, Narconon’s leader was simply not credible in her responses. In other words, she failed to tell the truth.
For all of that, Narconon of Georgia and Mary Rieser will now suffer what civil attorneys commonly call the “death penalty.” They will not be able to respond to the allegations filed by Patrick Desmond’s family alleging Narconon lied to them and the Brevard County drug court, pretended to be an inpatient facility, falsified records, provided negligent care and ultimately caused Patrick Desmond’s deadly overdose.
“This judicial order is as sharply worded a rebuke of a party as one is likely to see in an American court,” said WSB legal expert Ron Carlson. While not unheard of, he called the sanctions very uncommon.
Narconon’s attorneys have a very limited ability to appeal the ruling. Attorneys Barbara Marschalk and Steve Miller said they will ask Judge Hydrick to permit them to pause the Desmond trial so that their appeal can be heard in a higher court. Carlson said that is highly unlikely.
“This is very damaging to the defense,” Carlson noted. “It means the plaintiffs’ case will be heard by the jury uncontested.”