A Valencia woman told an Assembly committee Tuesday that her estranged husband paid a psychiatrist $750 to have her committed to a mental hospital in an effort to discredit her in a potential child custody dispute.
After hearing the testimony of Susan Vossler, 31, the Assembly subcommittee on mental health and developmental disabilities approved legislation that would require anyone suspected of being mentally ill to be examined by a mental health professional before being involuntarily committed to a hospital.
The bill, SB544 by State Sen. Dan McCorquodale (D-San Jose), was sent to the full Health Committee on a 5-0 vote.
Commitments by Phone
McCorquodale said his bill would plug a loophole in the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, which regulates involuntary detention of people suffering from mental disorders.
Psychiatrists now can sign commitment papers without seeing or talking to the patient. McCorquodale said he learned of a psychiatric hospital in Los Angeles that will take commitments over the phone.
Vossler told the committee that, in late October, 1984, she and her husband, Michael Middleton, were having “a marital dispute and discussing divorce,” and it appeared that there was going to be a custody fight over their 5-year-old son, Daniel.
According to Vossler, an attorney told her husband that the best way to win custody of their child would be to have his wife committed to a psychiatric hospital. Following his attorney’s advice, her husband paid psychiatrist Joel Moskowitz $750 to have her committed to the Van Nuys Psychiatric Hospital for evaluation, Vossler said. All Moskowitz required from her husband was “verification of employment, verification of insurance coverage, and his checkbook,” Vossler said.
Forcibly Taken Away
At midnight, five police cars arrived at her home and she was forcibly taken to the hospital, Vossler said. She was hospitalized on Moskowitz’s orders on grounds of drug abuse and chronic alcoholism, exhibiting violent and erratic behavior, and for being a danger to herself, she said. All of the charges were totally unfounded, she said. Urine tests at the hospital showed no traces of alcohol or drugs in her system, she said.
It took two days before an attorney could get a court order for her release, Vossler testified. She had to pay the attorney $1,000 and was billed for nearly $1,500 by the hospital, she said.
Moskowitz’s attorney, James D. Nichols, told The Times that the psychiatrist’s decision to commit Vossler had nothing to do with a custody dispute.
Sworn Depositions Cited
The attorney said that Middleton testified in sworn depositions that he went to see Moskowitz on the advice of an attorney out of a sense of love and concern for his wife, fearing she was going to hurt herself or someone else.
Nichols said Vossler’s husband told the psychiatrist that his wife had been treated at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital for a suspected drug overdose only days before, then had left the hospital on her own and locked herself in their house. Middleton said she threw his clothes on the lawn and turned the sprinklers on them and threw a rocking horse through the front window, Nichols said.
Middleton also told Moskowitz that his wife had been hospitalized at least twice before after suicide attempts, Nichols said.
Moskowitz said he tried to call Vossler but could not reach her, Nichols said. The psychiatrist then phoned her parents, who confirmed Vossler’s past hospitalization and erratic behavior, Nichols said.
Vossler said she has filed suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court against Moskowitz and the Van Nuys Psychiatric Hospital, charging them with kidnaping, false imprisonment, fraud and conspiracy.
Case Sparked Interest
McCorquodale, who introduced the legislation, said that Vossler’s case sparked his interest in the issue. “If it hadn’t happened to her, I might not have heard about it,” said McCorquodale, who last fall learned about Vossler from Los Angeles County mental health officials.
At first, McCorquodale said, he could not believe that someone could be committed without talking to a psychiatrist. “My first feeling was that the law wouldn’t allow it,” he said.
Instead, he said, psychiatrists confirmed that it could be legal. So he prepared legislation to alleviate the situation, and Vossler agreed to testify. She told her story to the Senate Health Committee earlier this year.
Vossler said she and Middleton are separated but no longer are talking divorce.
“I don’t plan to get remarried, and the only reason to get divorced is to marry someone else,” Vossler said.
Their son Daniel is living with her.