Jury to begin deliberations in gay conversion therapy case

AP News
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Posted: Jun 24, 2015 5:00 PM

JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) — A lawyer representing a New Jersey nonprofit that offers so-called "gay conversion" therapy called several men suing the group "flat-out liars" during closing arguments of a civil trial Wednesday, while their attorney characterized the group as "amateurs using scalpels" on the minds of young gay men.

Jurors heard closing arguments Wednesday and were to receive instructions from the judge Thursday morning before beginning deliberations.

The lawsuit filed in 2012 accuses Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing of violating New Jersey's consumer fraud laws by promising to turn gays into heterosexuals. To prevail, the plaintiffs need to convince a jury that JONAH, as it is called, engaged in unconscionable practices or made false promises or misrepresentations.

The trial began earlier this month and has featured testimony from the men about JONAH's methods, which they said included using a tennis racket to beat a pillow that was meant to represent one man's mother and engaging in role play that included a locker room scene where gay slurs were used.

The original four plaintiffs, three from Orthodox Jewish families and the fourth a Mormon, allege JONAH exploited them with false promises as they struggled with their same-sex attractions in strict religious environments where they were expected to marry women and have children.

In his summation, attorney James Bromley said JONAH's sales pitch included telling prospective clients that it had a two-thirds success rate. JONAH co-founder Arthur Goldberg testified during the trial that the group kept no records but instead relied on anecdotal evidence from JONAH-affiliated counselors.

Bromley said Alan Downing, a counselor who has been named as a defendant, "had no medical training, no licenses of any type." Bromley added that one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit who had been sexually abused as a child said he participated in a re-enactment of the abuse performed by other JONAH clients, as part of a program co-created by Downing.

"All in a process designed and run by amateurs," Bromley said.

In a more than two-hour closing argument, defense attorney Charles LiMandri dismissed plaintiffs' insinuations that JONAH was a cult-like group as "ludicrous in the extreme."

The plaintiffs, LiMandri continued, each left JONAH well short of the two to four years the group said is required to achieve change. They spoke in positive terms of their time there when they left, he said, and began changing their stories and "making stuff up" about what they were forced to do only after joining with activists seeking to shut the group down.

"They are flat-out liars," he told jurors, his voice rising. "Shame on them," he added later.

LiMandri described JONAH as a group founded to help people who are struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction and voluntarily want help.

"None of them wanted to identify as gay when they came to JONAH," he said. "They have a right to seek help and my clients have a right to provide that help."

Goldberg testified that he believes homosexuality is a disorder caused by emotional wounds occurring in childhood and adolescence. LiMandri stressed to jurors that plaintiffs never offered any evidence in emails or writings to back up its claim that JONAH refers to homosexuality as a mental disease or mental disorder.

Bromley countered that JONAH officials referred to homosexuality as a disorder like alcoholism or drug addiction, and as something that was "not normal, natural or good."