Fight Over 'Affluenza' Doctor Testimony Debated

Attorneys argued on Friday for nearly an hour whether the testimony was relevant and discoverable

By Chris Van Horne
|  Friday, May 16, 2014  |  Updated 6:47 PM CDT
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A Burleson family and its attorneys want the testimony of the doctor who used the controversial term

Chris Van Horne

A Burleson family and its attorneys want the testimony of the doctor who used the controversial term "affluenza" during the juvenile hearing for an admitted drunk driver.

A Burleson family and its attorneys want the testimony of the doctor who used the controversial term "affluenza" during the juvenile hearing for an admitted drunk driver.

Ethan Couch plead true to the charges that he was drunk driving his father's company vehicle when he killed four people and injured several others. Couch was sentenced to 10 years probation and treatment at a state facility.
 
Most of the lawsuits filed against the Couch family have been, or are in the process of being, settled.
 
But in late March, the McConnell family, of Burleson, said it was going to go to trial because they felt the Couch family hadn't taken responsibility. The families of victims were upset with the punishment from the juvenile trial.
 
On Friday, attorneys for the McConnells and Couch's squared off in the 96th District Court for a hearing to help determine whether Dr. Dick Miller and his "affluenza" testimony and work would be subject to a deposition.
 
McConnell's attorney Todd Clement said Miller's testimony helps paint an important picture of Ethan Couch.
"Dr. Miller testified that this was just waiting to happen, indeed the prior events set the table for this to happen," Clement said after the hearing. "And so that's what's important about this testimony, to give the jury the full picture."
 
But Couch family attorney Mike Yanof said the work done by Miller is privileged and cannot be subpoenaed or subject to a deposition. He also said Miller's testimony in juvenile court remains confidential. Even though the media was present and it's been widely publicized, Yanof said in court that juvenile laws make it confidential and like it never happened.
 
Yanof told Judge R.H. Wallace that if Miller's testimony and work was forced to be handed over, it would be unprecedented in Texas and set a new precedent. He warned it could lead to a chilling effect, where juvenile judges prevent the media from being present during court proceedings.
 
But Clement argued before Judge Wallace, that the testimony is no longer privileged or confidential because the doctor talked about his work freely with news organizations and the information is public because it has been reported.
 
"He testified as to the affluenza defense, talked about indeed how the profoundly dysfunctional parenting resulted in Ethan being the young man that he was on the night in question," Clement said. "We're seeking to simply get that type of testimony from Dr. Miller, the stuff that's already been aired in open court."
 
Judge Wallace said he would take the issue under advisement and will have a decision at an unknown time in the future.
 
During lawyer arguments over the motions, it was revealed just how long Ethan Couch may have to spend at the state run treatment facility. Couch's defense attorney Scott Brown said that treatment will last at minimum six months and more likely nine to 12 months. 
 
Clement said they plan to depose Couch, but only once his court mandated treatment concludes. The issue of deposing Couch was brought before the judge, but while Couch is in treatment no attorneys are able to reach him. Clement agreed they wouldn't see his deposition in the case until after his treatment concludes.

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