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In 1998, the George Mason University School of Law hired Paul Stavis to run its brand-new research center on mental health and the law. Three years later, Stavis lost his job — he says because his views disappointed a major donor to the school. Now, in a $12.8 million lawsuit, Stavis is raising questions about the close relationship between the Arlington, Va.-based school and the benefactor. Since its inception four years ago, the Law and Psychiatry Center at George Mason School of Law has been funded entirely by one organization, the NAMI Research Institute. Besides housing George Mason’s only on-campus law clinic, the center has added breadth to an institution known for its focus on law and economics. Before Stavis arrived as the center’s first director, he had entered into an unusual agreement with NAMI Research: The executive director of the Bethesda, Md.-based organization guaranteed him five years’ employment if his job at the law school didn’t work out. On Sept. 21, 2001, three days after he lost his job at the law school, NAMI Research told Stavis that he had no job there, either, according to the complaint. According to Rodney Sweetland III, Stavis’ Arlington-based attorney, “A respected law professor was fired because some people with a bunch of money forced him to be fired.” Stavis claims that because his relationship with the NAMI Research director soured, the law school decided not to renew his contract last year. On Sept. 26, he sued NAMI Research and its sister organization, the Arlington-based Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC), in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia for breach of contract and tortious interference with his university contract. Although George Mason itself is not a party to the suit, the school’s relationship with its benefactor is at the heart of Stavis’ claims. Law school officials deny there was any undue outside influence and say they were looking for a more established academic to lead the center as it matured. “It was a decision of the center’s board,” says Associate Dean Daniel Polsby, a member of the board. OUTPATIENT COMMITMENT One of the targets of Stavis’ suit is E. Fuller Torrey. Executive director of NAMI Research, Torrey is president of both NAMI Research and TAC. It was his idea to start the center, and he was the person who brought it to George Mason. He also holds views on mental health law considered controversial. Both NAMI Research and TAC are nonprofit organizations concerned with mental illness wholly funded by the Theodore and Vada Stanley Foundation, a Connecticut-based family charity. NAMI Research provides research grants for work on schizophrenia and manic-depressive illness. TAC focuses on legal policy and advocacy. Torrey also serves as executive director of the Stanley Foundation Research Programs. NAMI Research is part of this family of programs. In recent years, Torrey has been a vocal advocate of outpatient commitment, also known as assisted treatment, a system by which courts may order noncriminal psychiatric patients to take their doctor-prescribed medication. Anathema to many civil libertarians, outpatient commitment has gained some popularity in recent years. Concerned with what he saw as outdated mental health laws, Torrey and his colleagues sought a law school that might make a good home for a research center. “George Mason expressed the most interest,” Torrey says. In 1998, George Mason entered into a memorandum of understanding with NAMI Research Institute and TAC. (At the time of the deal, the two groups were functioning under the name NAMI-TAC; sometime after the deal, TAC assigned its rights and obligations under the memorandum to NAMI Research.) Under the deal, NAMI Research would fund the Center for Law and Psychiatry for five years — a total donation of $1.85 million. George Mason, in turn, agreed “to engage in educational and research activities concerning the formulation and implementation of legal policy concerning mental illness and the treatment thereof,” according to the July 20, 1998, document. The agreement also put Torrey on the center’s three-member board of directors with law school Dean Mark Grady and Associate Dean Polsby. “This kind of relationship in the law school world is not at all commonplace,” says Ron Collins, First Amendment Scholar at the Freedom Forum’s First Amendment Center. Collins says funding agreements need to include explicit statements of academic freedom and independence. “It’s not enough to say, ‘Well, we support academic freedom and what have you,’ if you cannot take that principle of academic freedom and put it in the memorandum of understanding.” The dean of another top-ranked law school says that depending on only one source of funding is unusual, but not unheard of, especially for a nascent program such as the center. “It’s risky because credibility is always in question,” he says. Impartiality, says the dean, who asked to remain anonymous, is “why [universities] are different from all the other institutions and think tanks. We are the only ones with a legitimate claim to neutrality.” MONEY MATTERS Most alumni contributions are unrestricted, meaning that the law school can use the money however it wishes. Some money given to law schools is, however, restricted or targeted. That means the donor provides the money for a specific purpose, such as buying library books or endowing a professorship in a certain field. Money can get your name on a building, but in most cases, it won’t buy academic influence. If a donor tries to cross the line, the school will balk. In 1995, for example, Yale University returned a $20 million gift for new courses in Western civilization rather than permit the donor to vet which professors would be hired to teach the courses. “If you’re going to give money to a university, you relegate control to the school,” says Robert Dinerstein, associate dean of the American University Washington College of Law. “You don’t say, ‘You will hire or you will fire people as we tell you to.’ Where it gets fuzzy is where no one ever says you have to hire this person or do this thing, but makes it clear that’s what is expected.” Usually, the liaison for big money — the kind of money that George Mason was getting — is a nonacademic, says Mark Grady, dean of George Mason’s law school. Torrey’s position as a well-known scholar in psychiatry and mental health legal policy gives a unique spin to the connection between the law school and the money. Not only is he the conduit for the money to the school, but also he has a professional and academic interest in the substance of what the center generates. “For us, the opportunity to have a relationship with a dashing original mind in this area was one of the main attractions to establishing the center in the first place,” Grady says. Indeed, the symbiotic relationship between donor and recipient makes traditional boundaries difficult to apply. Students in the law clinic do research and prepare draft legislation for TAC. And Torrey co-teaches a law and psychiatry class at the law school. Dean Grady says the closeness of the relationship with Torrey is a boon for the school. “I have found Dr. Fuller Torrey to be a tremendous partner. He has the same academic values that we have,” Grady says. “The Stanley Foundation and Dr. Torrey have an academic vision for this center and we do too. We’re trying to learn from each other.” Stavis says the relationship crossed the line. “I didn’t know who my boss was,” he says. FIVE-YEAR PLAN Last month, U.S. District Judge Leonard Wexler, a senior judge from the Eastern District of New York who is filling in on the Alexandria bench, dismissed all but the breach of contract charge. Wexler also dismissed the Stanley Foundation as a defendant to Stavis’ suit. The foundation’s attorney, Alisa Reff of D.C.’s Swidler Berlin Shereff Friedman, declined comment. A trial date for the Stavis suit has not been set. Matthew Lee, a partner in D.C.’s Eccleston and Wolf who represents TAC, would say only that “there is no factual basis or support for the allegations.” In the beginning, Stavis benefited from the cozy relationship between donor and school. In 1998, Stavis, then chief counsel for the New York State Commission on Quality of Care for the Mentally Disabled, applied for a position as executive director of TAC. The day after interviewing for the job, according to Stavis, Torrey called him and said, “You’re not going to be director of TAC. We’re going to create a law and psychiatry center, and you’ll be executive director, and you’ll be a professor.’ “ Stavis was thrilled, but hesitant about moving his family down from Albany, N.Y. On Nov. 10, 1998, Torrey sent him a letter on NRI stationary stating that if the George Mason appointment did not last five years, “we will continue to employ you as Director of Legal Research under the Treatment Advocacy Center for the remainder of the five-year period.” George Mason made Stavis director of the center and an associate clinical professor and gave him a $100,000 annual salary. By all accounts, his first year at the law school was pleasant and productive. He organized a successful conference on mental illness and the law in December 1999, and he published a law review article entitled “The Nexum” that calls for psychiatric patients to prescribe their preferred treatment in the event they become severely impaired. Not long after “The Nexum” came out, things began to sour, Stavis says. And the relationship between Torrey and the law school seemed to stop serving Stavis’ interest. In an April 6, 2000, letter to Stavis, Torrey writes that an editorial Stavis penned in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry “confirms the fact that you view advance directives as an alternative to assisted treatment. [B]y promoting advance directives as an alternative to assisted treatment, it is harmful to our efforts. … You have asked on several occasions what it is that I expect you to do. Let me repeat my answer once again on paper so that there will be no confusion. We funded the Law and Psychiatry Center at George Mason as an academic handmaiden to our efforts to implement assisted treatment.” More letters in a similar vein followed, according to court records. Torrey insists he had neither oversight nor influence over Stavis’ employment by the law school. “It was explicitly made clear to me from day one that George Mason law school is independent,” he says. And so far, Stavis still seemed to be in good graces at the law school. A performance evaluation that has been entered into evidence without identifying who at the law school authored it states that his performance “has been outstanding. … Paul Stavis is that rare blend of scholar practitioner that provides the legal, academic community the clinical study of mental illness laws with a person who is superbly qualified in both camps. [H]is contribution to our academic program has been enormous in a relatively brief period of time.” During the 2000-01 academic year, though, Stavis says, “everyone clammed up.” On Sept. 19, 2001, Polsby issued a letter to Stavis telling him the school would not renew his contract. Polsby says Torrey’s alleged disenchantment with Stavis had nothing to do with the school’s decision not to renew his contract. “We thought that the further growth of the center required a different set of talents than we saw in the incumbent,” Polsby says. Polsby, Grady, and Stavis say their relationship with each other remains cordial. Meanwhile, Stavis and his family are back in New York. The director’s position has not yet been filled with a permanent replacement.

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