A New Jersey jury returned a verdict this afternoon that could have a devastating impact on all men and women in New Jersey with unwanted same-sex attraction.
Arthur Goldberg (pictured), Elaine Berk, and Alan Downing were found guilty in 17 of 20 charges that they fraudulently practiced therapy that helps lessen and even eliminate homosexual attractions and behavior.
Four men brought the suit, claiming Goldberg made guarantees to them that he knew he couldn’t keep and that he therefore violated New Jersey’s Consumer Protection Act. Goldberg’s group, Jews Offering New Alternatives to Healing (JONAH), becomes the first non-profit ever prosecuted under the law.
The men were able to bring the very expensive suit against JONAH because they were backed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a controversial leftist advocacy group that boasts $340 million in the bank and annual revenues north of $40 million. At various times they had 15 lawyers in the courtroom against no more than three for the defendants.
On Thursday, the jury awarded plaintiffs only $11,000, which the judge has tripled. The real problem for Goldberg, Berk, and Downy is the prospect of having to pay the legal expenses for the plaintiffs, which are expected to be more than $4 million. Additionally, the Southern Poverty Law Center is seeking a permanent injunction against JONAH that would shutter their religiously-based counseling group which has helped hundreds of men with unwanted same-sex attraction.
The deck in court was stacked against Goldberg from the start. The judge refused to allow evidence arguing same-sex attraction is a mental disorder. In a pretrial decision, he said those who believe such a thing would one day be compared to those who believe in a flat earth. For the same reason, he also did not allow 6 of JONAH’s expert witnesses to testify.
Defendants have not yet decided but are seriously considering an appeal, and those close to the trial say there are multiple grounds to proceed, including the Judge’s rejection of JONAH’s expert witnesses–and, oddly, that he would not allow defendant’s attorney Charles Limandri of the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund to mention the First Amendment in his closing arguments.
During the trial, Limandri repeatedly demonstrated that plaintiffs had contradicted themselves from the discovery phase of the trail to testimony in court. Each of the plaintiffs, for instance, said that JONAH made guarantees to them that their same-sex attraction would end. But it was shown that each of them signed a document that clearly said there were no guarantees in the outcome of the treatment.
Plaintiff Benji Ungar testified under oath that he was a virgin when he first approached JONAH for help with unwanted homosexual attractions. However, on the intake form he submitted for JONAH, he purportedly said he had plenty of anal and oral gay sex.
Plaintiff’s lead expert witness, a psychiatrist from New York University, testified under direct examination that homosexuality was totally normal and not changeable and that efforts to help someone change were “unethical.” Yet under cross-examination, she admitted aspects of homosexuality were changeable and that someone had a right to seek help in changing.
All this made the final result surprising.
A statement released this afternoon by the public interest law firm representing Goldberg said the verdict would have a “chilling effect on religious freedom” since much of the treatment afforded plaintiffs was “Torah-based.” The question becomes, can religious people help other religious people to overcome what their faiths teach are immoral impulses and behavior? This jury said no.
The end result of the verdict may very well be that no one in the state of New Jersey who acts out in a homosexual way may be allowed to seek counseling to stop. This is the goal of the Southern Poverty Law Center and groups like Truth Wins Out, to stand between a patient wanting help with homosexuality and his doctor who is willing to help him. One plaintiff described an organized plan to close down JONAH and other groups offering similar counseling services.
Follow Austin Ruse on Twitter @austinruse