Remembering Dr. Paul Turner – Expert & Compassionate Forensic Evaluator

This is my second remembrance and tribute blog posting in a week’s time. Until last week, I’ve never even considered writing one. Yet this week the legal community—as well as the Fairfield County Community as a whole—lost another remarkable legal professional, as well as a wonderful human being, to cancer: Dr. Paul Turner, a veteran forensic evaluator.

Paul—and he preferred to be called Paul rather than Dr. Turner—worked for the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) for 26 years, first as a forensic evaluator for 17 years, and then for 9 years as a mobile crisis evaluator. During those 26 years, he provided the Connecticut Superior Courts—the criminal, family and juvenile courts—with over 5000 forensic evaluations. During the 10 years or so that I worked with Paul, I never met a judge, prosecutor, defense attorney, divorce lawyer, or court social worker that ever questioned the integrity of a Paul Turner evaluation report.

If you’re not familiar with the task of “evaluating” someone, it’s a tall task. Paul was asked to gather data—through interviews, testing, and collateral sources—and then communicate a position to the court about the client’s mental health, risk assessment profile, or criminal tendencies to re-offend.   Was the client a threat to himself? To his or her spouse or children? To the community?

For 26 years, Connecticut Superior Court judges, prosecutors, Department of Children & Families investigators, and domestic violence crisis teams looked to Paul to fairly and thoroughly evaluate data—distill the bias, sensation and emotion from this data—and then take a position.

Take a position? Take a position in open court on the record? As any Connecticut defense attorney or prosecutor knows, no one takes a position these days. It’s too risky. But Paul did.

In these days of CYA, lawsuits and self-preservation / job-preservation, you don’t see evaluators, GALs, and mental health professionals state clear and unequivocal opinions. This has caused judicial gridlock in the domestic violence criminal and family courts. Practitioners like Paul Turner were the antidote. Paul took a position.

Here’s an example of the difference between Paul Turner and the rest of the forensic evaluator world…in a domestic violence case, Paul would routinely call the arresting police officer to interview them and gather more on-scene data. How was the suspect reacting on-scene? An hour later at the police station? Were there drugs and alcohol involved? What were the alleged victims doing? He always made the extra effort to get as much real data as possible (rather than biased self-reporting).

In my 18 years of practicing law, I never saw someone do each evaluation with such thoroughness and diligence as Paul did. He spoke to everyone. He answered questions. He questioned answers.  Paul Turner left no stone unturned and if he did, he let you and the court know he did, and he explained why. (Here’s a day-in-the-life article from the Stamford Advocate profiling Paul’s work).

That’s the kind of evaluator Paul Turner was—his diligence, compassion and pride in his work was a product of his personal integrity.

Personally, he was kind, patient and soft-spoken. A tremendous listener. I worked with him for nearly 10 years. He was always available to take a phone call on the weekend, after hours, or stop by the office to talk not just about cases, but also about the profession. That’s because he was a professional.

Paul, you’ll be sorely missed in town and in our courthouse. Your diligence, work ethic and compassion for your clients will continue to be an inspiration to all of us in the legal profession.