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'Affluenza' wreck victim wants doctor's testimony

  • Article by: NOMAAN MERCHANT
  • Associated Press
  • May 16, 2014 - 5:30 PM

FORT WORTH, Texas — The psychologist who said a teenage drunken driver who killed four people suffered from "affluenza" shouldn't have to testify again at a crash victim's behest, the teen's attorneys argued Friday.

Judge R. H. Wallace Jr. of Fort Worth is expected to issue a ruling early next week on a request from Ethan Couch's attorneys to prohibit psychologist Dick Miller from testifying.

Lawyers for the family of Lucas McConnell, a boy injured in last year's crash, are suing the Couch family and want Miller to explain his theory that Couch's parents coddled him into a sense of irresponsibility — a condition Miller called "affluenza." That term became the subject of national outrage after a juvenile court judge gave Couch probation for the crash.

Michael Yanof, an attorney for the Couch family, said Miller should be barred from testifying because he remains a consultant protected by attorney-client privilege, as well as a doctor whose medical records should remain sealed under state law. Yanof said the case also raised issues about the privacy of juvenile defendants.

"It is about whether this court is willing to set precedent that is unprecedented in the state of Texas," Yanof said.

Todd Clement, an attorney for McConnell, countered that Miller's testimony was already public, through media coverage of Couch's case and interviews Miller gave afterward.

"Once the genie's out of the bottle, you can't put it back in," Clement said.

Clement said after the hearing that Miller's testimony would be "important, but not critical" to the McConnell family's case for damages. The family has said it does not want to settle with Couch's family as most other victims of the crash have.

The McConnells' attorneys want to get the sworn testimony of Couch, now 17, who is getting treatment in a state-run lockdown rehabilitation facility. They agreed to delay their request Friday after Couch's attorneys said the facility would almost certainly not allow Couch to undergo a deposition.

Scott Brown, another of Couch's lawyers, said in court that he thought Couch would be in the facility for at least six months and as long as a year. Afterward, he said the estimate was based solely on his experience with other clients.

© 2014 Star Tribune