NEW YORK – At a hearing Monday in Manhattan in which he ruled filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza must continue community service for four more years, U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman said he considers D’Souza’s violation of federal campaign-finance laws to be evidence of a psychological problem and ordered further counseling.
D’Souza’s defense counsel Benjamin Brafman provided evidence to the court that the psychiatrist D’Souza was ordered to see found no indication of depression or reason for medication. In addition, the psychologist D’Souza subsequently consulted provided a written statement concluding there was no need to continue the consultation, because D’Souza was psychologically normal and well adjusted.
But Judge Berman, who was appointed by Bill Clinton, disagreed, effectively overruling the judgment of the two licensed psychological counselors the U.S. probation department had approved as part of D’Souza’s criminal sentence.
“I only insisted on psychological counseling as part of Mr. D’Souza’s sentence because I wanted to be helpful,” the judge explained. “I am requiring Mr. D’Souza to see a new psychological counselor and to continue the weekly psychological consultation not as part of his punishment or to be retributive.
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D’Souza has become known for his two popular films critical of President Obama. “2016: Obama’s America” was released during the 2012 presidential campaign and “America: Imagine the World Without Her” came out in July 2014, ahead of the midterm elections.
“I’m not singling out Mr. D’Souza to pick on him,” Berman said at the hearing Monday. “A requirement for psychological counseling often comes up in my hearings in cases where I find it hard to understand why someone did what they did.”
WND reported that at the Sept. 23, 2014, sentencing hearing, Berman said he could not understand how someone of D’Souza’s intelligence, with credentials that include college president, could do something so stupid as to violate federal campaign contribution laws. D’Souza was at the pinnacle of his career, writing bestselling non-fiction books and producing popular feature films.
As WND reported, after pleading guilty to campaign-finance violations, D’Souza was sentenced in September to eight months in a work-release center, five years of probation, a $30,000 fine and community service. He pleaded guilty in May 2014 to arranging “straw donors” to contribute $10,000 to the failed 2012 U.S. Senate campaign of Wendy Long, a college friend.
On May 31, he was released from nightly detention at a work-release center in San Diego after eight months. During that time, in fulfillment of his community service requirement, he taught English once a week to Spanish-speaking applicants for American citizenship. Berman ruled Monday he must continue for another four years the community-service portion of his sentence.
In his eight months of nightly confinement, he found time to sign a contract with HarperCollins and begin writing a new book to follow his 2014 New York Times bestseller, “America.” He also started the process of financing his next feature film, scheduled for the 2016 presidential campaign. And he’s designed a sequel to his highly profitable 2014 feature film, “America: Imagine the World Without Her.”
‘I was a psychology major’
Berman explained at the hearing Monday that his social-work training combined with his psychology major has made him sensitive to psychological issues in the criminal cases he hears.
“You have to understand, I have a background in social work with a psychology major,” Berman explained. “I’m sensitive to mental health issues in the criminal cases I hear, and I do not want to end psychological counseling at this time in Mr. D’Souza’s case.”
Brafman countered that it was not fair to require someone like D’Souza to continue psychological counseling as part of his sentence when the doctors D’Souza has seen so far believe he does not need to continue the psychological counseling.
“Applying your argument to white-collar crimes,” Brafman continued, “why wouldn’t all white-collar criminals need psychological counseling?”
Berman countered that 85 percent of all criminal defendants who appear before him argue they don’t need psychological counseling or drug therapy, among other rehabilitative interventions.
‘A colossal failure of introspection’
“What I’m reading in the psychological case notes is compatible with my own impressions,” Berman continued. “The psychological case notes indicate that while Mr. D’Souza is highly intelligent, he has remarkably little insight into his own motivations, that he is not introspective or insightful, but that he tends to see his own actions in an overly positive manner.
“I consider the original crime in this case is an insight issue,” Berman continued. “That Mr. D’Souza committed this crime involves a colossal failure of insight and introspection. The case notes also say Mr. D’Souza has weaknesses in controlling his own impulses and that he is prone to anger in reaction to criticism.”
The judge noted the psychologists “chart indicates Mr. D’Souza tends to deny problems, that he lacks insight into his own behavior, that he is arrogant and intolerant of the feelings of others, while projecting an overly positive image of himself.”
“Therefore, I am ordering Mr. D’Souza to continue psychological counseling with another therapist,” said Berman.
“Therapy is more of an art than a science, and a new therapist may be what is needed in this case,” he said.
Berman ruled the sentencing requirement for weekly psychological counseling would be re-examined at the next sentencing review hearing, scheduled for Oct. 8 at 11:30 a.m. in his Manhattan courtroom.
Five years of teaching English required
As WND reported Monday, Berman ruled that D’Souza’s sentence requiring him to spend eight hours per week teaching English to Spanish-speaking students applying for U.S. citizenship was meant to be coterminous with his “supervised release,” or parole.
“I’m certain I would never have imposed a community service requirement to end with the community detention,” Berman said, rejecting an argument Brafman made that the original sentencing order was ambiguous.
Berman also rejected Brafman’s argument that a five-year community service requirement to teach English to Spanish-speakers was onerous, taking into account that D’Souza had no prior criminal record and that his crime, while a felony, was committed at a particularly stressful time of his life, while he was in the midst of a difficult divorce settlement.
In previous court appearances, Brafman had argued D’Souza’s crime, while admittedly a felony under federal law, was reflective more of an oversight involving a relatively small sum of money, not indicative of serious criminal malicious intent.
‘A real sentence in every respect’
D’Souza’s attorney, Brafman, argued: “With Mr. D’Souza required to spend one day every week in community service, this sentence is a real impediment to pursuing full-time employment.”
Berman countered: “I intended this to be a real sentence in every respect. Mr. D’Souza pleaded guilty to a felony, and I believe at the time the initial sentence was announced, Mr. D’Souza was relieved he was not facing incarceration.”
Also at issue was D’Souza’s request to travel internationally to visit his 80-year-old mother in India and to visit his daughter at school in London.
Berman ruled that permission to travel internationally would be reconsidered at the Oct. 8 hearing, but D’Souza would be allowed to purchase his air tickets now, with the court assuming the Oct. 8 hearing will find him in full compliance with all aspects of his sentencing requirements.
While D’Souza is under no domestic travel restrictions, he must request court approval to travel internationally, and he is allowed to pick up his passport only 24 hours prior to departure. His passport must be surrendered to federal authorities 24 hours after the completion of his return flight.
Also at issue in the Oct. 8 hearing will be proof D’Souza has completed 416 hours teaching English by the end of September, as required under the mandate that he devote eight hours a week to it.
D’Souza is behind schedule because of difficulties finding an appropriate venue in San Diego.
He told WND in an interview last month that he has enjoyed teaching the English classes.
“I have become very attached to my students,” he said. “There are around 100 of them, in classes ranging from beginner to intermediate to advanced.”
He said many of them have now seen his film, “America,” which he gave to them as a Christmas present.
“They have gotten to know me and my situation,” he said. “And they are now huge fans. If you ran Obama against me with this group, I doubt he would get a single vote.”