Nov. 14, 2013 – A therapist who was convicted for having sexual contact with a patient in violation of state law has lost his appeal, despite an appeals court ruling that two former patients were not allowed to testify as to other acts evidence.
Therapist Jeffrey Adamczak was accused and convicted of violating Wis. Stat. section 940.22(2), which says a therapist who has sexual contact with patients while the therapist-patient relationship is ongoing commits a felony, regardless of consent.
In 2010, Milwaukee County prosecutors hit Adamczak with two counts of sexual exploitation by a therapist based on allegations by two separate victims. One count was dismissed because the alleged acts took place outside Milwaukee County.
The other count proceeded to trial. The state sought to introduce “other acts evidence” in the form of reports from two patients who claimed Adamczak made inappropriate statements to them. A third testified that Adamczak had sexual contact with her.
In addition, a letter written by Adamczak’s attorney to the victim before trial was admitted into evidence. The letter stated that the lawyer, Gerald Boyle, was worried about Adamczak’s mental health and asked whether there was another solution.
The defense argued that Adamczak did have sexual contact with the victim, but not until after the therapist-patient relationship had ended. After hearing testimony from the victim and four others, a jury found Adamczak guilty and he was convicted, sentenced to 12 months with Huber privileges.
On appeal, though, Adamczak argued that the other acts evidence of two witnesses should have been excluded. In addition, he argued that his trial counsel should have objected when the letter the attorney wrote to the victim was admitted into evidence.
The letter was hearsay and put the lawyer’s credibility at issue, he explained, and thus the conviction should be overturned on the basis that his lawyer was ineffective.
In State v. Adamczak, 2013AP310-CR (Nov. 5, 2013), a three-judge panel for the District I Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction despite lower court errors.
First, the panel ruled that two former patients should have been barred from testifying as to other acts evidence allowed to show he acted similarly on other occasions.
Neither witness testified that Adamczak had sexual contact with them, but both testified that he used sexually suggestive language during their sessions.
The court ruled that this testimony should have been barred, primarily because the testimony was dissimilar to the allegations. “Here, there is little similarity between the other acts evidence and the charged offense,” wrote Judge Patricia Curley.
However, the appeals court ruled that admission of this evidence was harmless error. “At best, their testimony suggested that Adamczak was inappropriate with two of his patients,” wrote Curley, noting that the testimony “did not poison the jury.”
The most damning evidence, the panel noted, was not challenged on appeal. Another former patient testified that Adamczak kissed her and put his hand down her pants before touching her genitals. The victim alleged that he had done the same thing.
“The jury could surmise that if Adamczak was willing to have sexual contact with one patient in an identical manner was alleged by Sabrina while acting as her therapist, his defense that he did not have sexual contact with Sabrina until after she was no longer his patient was seriously undermined,” Judge Curley wrote.
Email exchanges between Adamczak and the victim also strongly suggested that a sexual relationship was ongoing during the therapist-patient relationship.
“Thus, we conclude that there was no reasonable possibility that the admission of testimony from patients Gail and Sarah contributed to the conviction,” Curley wrote.
As to Adamczak’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim based on the letter that his lawyer wrote to the victim – the appeals court was not convinced.
The panel noted that the letter was not inadmissible hearsay because Adamczak approved the letter, and thus authorized the statement that was made to the victim.
Adamczak’s assertion that the letter may have been viewed as a bribe or intimidation of the witness in the eyes of the jury, the panel noted, is without merit.
“[N]o evidence was presented to suggest that Attorney Boyle was trying to intimidate Sabrina or offer her a bribe,” Judge Curley wrote. “Arguing that the jury may have thought so, and disliked Adamczak’s and also, in turn, Adamczak, is sheer speculation.”