False memory Syndrome Cases

Woody Allen and the history of

In 1991, Charlotte Johnson dropped a bomb on her parents. She accused her father, Charles Johnson, of sexually abusing her. Two years later she accused her mother, Karen Johnson, of being complicit in the sexual abuse and of being physically abusive to her. The abuse, she believes to this day, happened when she was a young child.

The painful memories, buried deep in Johnson's subconsciousness, surfaced in adulthood.

Charles and Karen Johnson, of St. Louis, say the abuse never happened and that mental health treatment providers encouraged and fostered false memories of abuse.

In 1996 the Johnsons sued Rogers Memorial Hospital in Oconomowoc, where their daughter was admitted for treatment. They also sued Heartland Counseling Services in Madison, Madison therapist Kay Phillips, Oconomowoc therapists Jeff Hollowell and Tim Reisenauer, and the defendants’ insurers. The lawsuit has wound through the legal system for more than 14 years, including two trips to the state Supreme Court.

Finally, starting on Jan. 10, a two-week trial in Dane County will determine whether the treatment providers negligently implanted in Charlotte Johnson false memories of abuse.

The Johnsons, who paid for their daughter’s treatment, claim that her treatment was negligent, caused emotional distress, and breached a contract to provide appropriate care.

The Johnsons’ attorney, Bill Smoler, has racked up multimillion-dollar wins in false memory cases. In one case, he won $5 million for a family who obtained the medical records for their daughter upon her death, even though the daughter had maintained until she died that her parents physically and sexually abused her as a child. In two others, the patients recanted what they once believed were repressed memories of abuse, which they later came to realize were false.

Charlotte Johnson maintains that the abuse happened, and she opposed the release of her medical records to her parents. That issue went to the state Supreme Court, which in 2005 allowed the parents limited access to the records. Because of that, the case could be precedent-setting. It could be the only case in the nation in which the parents of a living patient have successfully taken a case to trial against the will of the patient.

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