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Suit Challenges Recollections of Molestation

March 25, 1994|From Associated Press

NAPA, Calif. — A father faced off in court Thursday against his daughter's two therapists, charging that they conned her into remembering childhood sexual abuse that never happened.

The lawsuit filed by former wine company executive Gary Ramona is among the first to challenge the validity of so-called recovered memories. Some national experts say the time is right.

"There are a certain number of therapists who see sexual abuse in every patient they see," said Dr. Harrison Pope, a Harvard University psychiatrist who has helped Ramona. "And they can lead a patient by a thousand suggestions and implications, and by reinforcing what they do and don't listen to."

Ramona's life was shattered in 1990, when daughter Holly confronted him--and later filed a suit--over childhood sexual molestation she recalled during psychiatric treatment for the eating disorder bulimia. Her suit is pending.

Ramona, 49, denied abusing his daughter as a toddler. No criminal charges were filed.

But he soon lost his $300,000-a-year job as a vice president at the Robert Mondavi Winery. He was ostracized by friends, family and the community.

He sued the therapists for $8 million, accusing them of planting the molestation memories with improper suggestion and drug use. Holly Ramona, now 23, is scheduled to testify in her therapists' defense.

Ramona's attorney, Richard Harrington, opened his case Thursday by portraying a daughter who had been unhappy and overweight since childhood. He said she sought treatment as a college student while suffering from bulimia, only to be mishandled by a family counselor and a hospital psychiatrist.

The counselor, Marche Isabella, repeatedly insisted that bulimia was caused by childhood sexual abuse and that the subsequent use of the drug sodium amytal proved that Holly's flashbacks were true, Harrington said. He said the accusations came despite repeated medical exams during childhood that showed no evidence of abuse.

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