Hanna’s Counselor – Part 4

Texas v. Munsen – Dixon’s Testimony

On Day Four of the 2013 Munsen trial, about 9:00 am, the prosecutor began by having Dixon list her qualifications (RN, licensed professional counselor, in business for 21 years, gives lectures, wrote a book about abuse, etc.). When he asked her what her work as a counselor was like she said, “I work with people who have gone through trauma, people who have gone through divorce, people who have gone through death – well, not actually them, but the people who remain, working with [their] grief.” After that, the prosecutor elicited a great deal of information about Dixon’s role as the Munsen girls’ counselor, how the accusations came about, who the girls told first, how it was investigated, etc.

At 10:15, Bruce Lambert, Munsen’s defense attorney, got his turn to cross-examine Dixon. He asked her how many times she had testified in trials before. In Steve’s trial you’ll remember that she said she had already been an expert witness in sexual abuse trials 30 to 40 times by 2006. This time she just said, “I couldn’t give you a definite number, but over 21 years a lot.”

He asked her, among other things, if she had ever heard the term “cognitive dissonance.” She answered, “Cognitive distance?” He corrected her, and she said, “Dissonance? I certainly know what ‘cognitive’ means. I’m not going to say I’m real familiar with that.” You would think that a licensed professional counselor, who held degrees in psychology and counseling, and had been in practice for 21 years, would understand the concept of conflict caused by trying to hold two competing beliefs in your mind at the same time.

Possibly the most enlightening comment Dixon made came during a contentious segment of the trial when Lambert tried to elicit information from her about when certain events (like an accusation from one of the girls) occurred. Dixon seemed frustrated during much of that passage because she couldn’t provide those dates, even in a general sense. She couldn’t answer this question, for example, “Do you know from the course of your therapy whether or not that contact ceased sometime toward the end of January 2011?” Dixon tried to blame those faults on the crash of her computer, but when the attorney asked her if she would agree with him that this was serious business, here was their exchange.

DIXON: It’s the worst thing that could ever happen to a child.
LAMBERT: And being falsely accused of this could be the worst thing ever happened to – to anybody.
DIXON: Yes, if you were falsely accused.
LAMBERT: Correct, right?
DIXON: Correct.
LAMBERT: And would you agree with me that having more information as opposed to less information is going to help us find the truth?

The prosecution objected, saying that Lambert’s comment was argumentative, and the judge agreed. He moved on, and asked her if she tried “to document things thoroughly in order to have better records.” The prosecutor objected again, “Asked and answered.” Dixon had already stated that she kept good records, but she plunged ahead before the judge could rule on the objection, saying “I have good records. I have good records. I’m typically given two weeks’ notice whenever I’m going to need records. I had them on Monday morning, and I had to be here by noon.”

Let’s pause for a second. If you’ll recall, Monday was the first day of the trial. On Tuesday, Dixon had a 13-minute discussion with the judge and both attorneys about the records that she hadn’t produced. She agreed to bring whatever she could find to the court on Wednesday, which she did. Did Dixon lie in her testimony when she said she had the records on Monday? She didn’t give them to the court until Wednesday, which forced the court to waste half a day so the attorneys could study her records.

Back to the trial. Lambert asked her about her record keeping process. Her answer is the interesting important bit.

LAMBERT: Let me ask you this: Is it your position that you should only — your date to provide records to the prosecution or anybody is limited after you initially provide records?

DIXON: No I don’t — well, you know what? I know that my first priority is to protect my children that I see. If that means keeping information that’s going to keep a defense attorney from working a case against them, then I’m going to fight to protect those records because I don’t want to make anything where it’s going to be easier for a defense attorney to come up with stuff to say that, you know, this didn’t happen. I know what happened.

I was shocked at how the court reacted to that (or didn’t react). Lambert asked Dixon a few questions about whether he had ever been impolite to her or done anything to her that she considered underhanded or illegal. Dixon said that he hadn’t, and then he continued with questions about the case. I couldn’t believe he didn’t zero in on the fact that she had just admitted that she was willing to violate the rules of discovery. It seemed to me that she was saying she would gladly hide information from the court if that information would help the defense. If she actually had done that (and the DA had known about it) it could have been a Brady violation, and could have caused a mistrial. Or, if proven on appeal, it could have resulted in a reversal of the trial’s verdict.

Did she hide material? She certainly seemed to be making all kinds of excuses on Tuesday to try to keep from producing materials, and she was ultimately the person who decided what she would bring. Steve has told me a number of times that Dixon fought like crazy to avoid turning over the notes from her sessions with Hanna. In his case she actually succeeded in getting the judge to agree to let her give him a summary in place of all of her notes. Her summary only covered five sessions. We’ll take a brief look at it in the posts beginning with Dixon’s Summary – Part 1. Did Dixon hide information during Steve’s trial? Had she done that for other trials? In the Munsen trial she indicated a willingness to.

In the next post, we’ll look at the way Dixon may have contravened a court rule about discussing the Munsen trial with others.

Michael Sirois

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