Attorneys hope to question former CEO in Retreat lawsuit

Brattleboro Reformer
Bob Audette
December 22, 2017

BRATTLEBORO — Attorneys for the family of a young woman who attempted suicide at the Brattleboro Retreat in 2014 want to know what the former president and CEO of the mental health facility knew and when he knew it.

The Brattleboro Retreat is asking a federal judge to reject a request by the girl's family to force Rob Simpson to testify and produce documents related to the suicide attempt, which occurred while the teenager was an inpatient at the retreat on May 5, 2014.

The girl died several months after the attempt, as a result of injuries suffered during the incident.

The girl's parents, Margaret Russo and Steven DiPillo, want Simpson, who was president and CEO of the retreat until his retirement Dec. 31, 2015, to answer questions about the attempted suicide that occurred in 2014 and what measures the retreat put in place to prevent a similar attempt.

At risk of suicide

The retreat was aware of a suicide attempt in 2013 that used the same method that the teenager used in her 2014 attempt, according to a letter from Peter Morgan, a doctor in the Yale School of Medicine, School of Psychiatry, to Joel Faxon, who represents the parents.

"[T]he retreat knew, or should have reasonably known, that others without direct knowledge of the 2013 event would also be at risk for using the same method ... if changes to address that risk were not made."

Morgan notes that it appears the retreat did not take "any steps to address the safety risk."

Faxon writes that Simpson denied in a 2014 letter to the parents "that any such event was described by the retreat's records ... clearly an incorrect statement."

'Mr. Simpson did not mislead'

However, in a document filed Friday, retreat attorneys state, "Mr. Simpson did not mislead. ... He did not pronounce that no such event had occurred. In fact, he invited [the girl's] parents to provide more details about the event [so he could direct staff in responding to the inquiry]. Only after extensive discovery in this litigation, and well after Mr. Simpson left ... the retreat located information

concerning a similar event outside of its incident reporting system. It is neither productive nor appropriate to accuse Mr. Simpson of misleading [the girl's] family, nor does it justify taking his deposition."

In a motion to quash to reject the deposition request filed Dec. 8, Retreat attorneys also wrote "Given the time that has passed since then, Mr. Simpson does not have a distinct recollection of his actions in response to their letter. He is sure, however, that he would have asked a staff member to try to determine what 'similar event' [the girl's] parents might have been referring to, rather than personally look into their request."

The motion to quash also notes that the deadline for completion of depositions was Nov. 15, 2016, and discovery was completed on May 1 of this year.

"[The parents] never requested [Simpson's] deposition before the deadline for fact witness depositions passed. Instead, more than a year past that deadline, she served a deposition subpoena on Mr. Simpson commanding him to appear and give testimony on December 18, 2017 in Brattleboro, Vermont, a little more than one month before this case is set to be tried."

Documents the parents are now requesting include information on other hanging attempts at the Retreat, door alarms, investigation pertaining to a hanging attempt that occurred in February or March 2013, and communication between Simpson and the parents. The Retreat's attorneys noted that none of the documents requested by the parents are in Simpson's possession.

Not only is the request for a deposition and the documents untimely, noted the Retreat's attorneys, it is "unduly burdensome because the trial in this case is scheduled to start a little more than a month from now, the proposed deposition topics have been the subject of discovery for well over a year, Mr. Simpson's role in this matter was limited, and his recollection is scant given the time that has passed."

The girl's parents could have deposed Simpson long before the date set by the federal court, wrote the Retreat's attorneys, who also noted that issues Faxon hopes to explore "have already been the subject of exhaustive discovery. The subpoena seeks documents ... but Plaintiff has already made voluminous written discovery requests regarding these topics. Similarly, multiple witnesses were questioned about these subjects at previous depositions ..."

In addition, wrote the Retreat's attorneys, "The Retreat has numerous inpatient floors and residential units that house children, adolescents, and adults. It would be unreasonable to expect that Mr. Simpson would direct his staff to unearth every record and document related to every patient in the Retreat's possession concerning the specified time period, or to interview every staff member who might have knowledge of such an event. The actions Mr. Simpson took were entirely reasonable: he asked a member of his staff to look into their request and was informed there was no incident report describing a similar event. He informed Laura's parents of what he had been told and requested additional information to assist in identifying the event, which they chose not to provide. While the Retreat was ultimately able to locate information concerning a similar event — outside of its event reporting system and after extensive discovery in this litigation — that does not demonstrate that Mr. Simpson's statement at the time was inaccurate."

While the request for Simpson's deposition is untimely, admitted Faxon, it became clear in late September there was "a conflict between the Retreat's representations in 2014 versus 2014 concerning the 2013 attempted hanging."

Faxon also noted if the Retreat had put in place measures to prevent another similar attempt, they would have saved the teenager's life. "If Dr. Simpson, on behalf of the [Retreat] as its Chief Executive Officer, had not misled [the girl's] family for over four years, then a deposition certainly would have been arranged months ago," wrote Faxon.