Sterling's philosophy didn't save his marriage

San Jose Mercury News/September 15, 1996
By Sarah Lubman

A. Justin Sterling's recipe for successful relationships made him rich but left him single.

Alexandria Hill, Sterling's ex-wife, moved out after nine years of marriage in 1994 and filed a temporary restraining order against her husband, whom she described in Alameda County court papers as ''angry, overbearing, and erratic . . . (and) verbally abusive.''

In his own court papers, Sterling disputed Hill's characterization. But there was no denying that his philosophy that women should be ''egoless'' in relationships, and that divorce is a form of child abuse, hadn't saved his marriage.

Sterling, born Arthur Kasarjian, refused several interview requests made through ICSD and the Sterling Institute.

''He doesn't give interviews,'' said Peter Rosomoff, the institute's executive director.

Public records, however, produce a snapshot of a self-made guru of the personal growth movement who amassed a fortune over 15 years of exhorting men to accept their aggressive natures and women to indulge them.

Kasarjian, 54, was born in Massachusetts and graduated from Brookline High School in 1961. In his high-school yearbook, Arthur ''Artie'' Kasarjian wears horn-rimmed glasses and a faint smile. His extracurricular activities hint at his future career: radio broadcasting, and four years of drama.

Moved to California

In the 1970s, Kasarjian moved to California, where he took est and ran a restaurant. In 1979, he changed his name to A. Justin Sterling.

That year, Sterling also began giving one-day workshops for women, based on his view that women's career aspirations clash with their need to yield to men.

The workshop evolved into separate ''seminars'' for men and women. In 1981, he incorporated the Sterling Institute Inc., a privately-held company that does business as the Sterling Institute of Relationship.

The company's four-paragraph ''backgrounder'' on its president and chief executive officer cites Sterling's ''experience as a career counselor for women executives,'' but lists no credentials. Rosomoff said he doesn't know his boss's qualifications.

Although Sterling's seminars and his 1992 book focus on romantic relationships, waivers for his weekends say they're not intended as therapy. California records indicate he isn't licensed as a psychologist or marriage and family counselor - either as Sterling or as Kasarjian. Licenses are not required to lead educational seminars, as the institute describes its weekends.

Sterling lists his highest year of education as ''14'' in court filings. Hill said in a court statement that Sterling ''had no credentials and not even a college degree'' during the 12 years she worked for him, from 1981 to 1993. She declined requests for an interview.

Host on 'Donahue'

He was a 1992 guest host on ''Donahue,'' but his amused audience may not have been entirely neutral: Some were graduates of Sterling's women's weekend. The show identified Sterling as a ''relationship expert.''

The seminars made Sterling a wealthy man. He valued his assets at nearly $6.5 million and his net worth at $4.3 million in a 1993 bank loan application, court documents say. A year later, embroiled in a child-support fight with Hill, he said in a deposition that he had deliberately inflated the value of his real-estate holdings to make his application look better. If that is true, it would be a federal felony fraud offense.

His properties include five condominiums in Emeryville, the Oakland headquarters of Sterling Institute and the International Community Service Day Foundation, two apartments in Manhattan, a house in Massachusetts and his Oakland home off Skyline Boulevard overlooking the bay.

From the fiscal year ending May 31, 1989, through fiscal 1994, the Sterling Institute's revenues from its weekend seminars more than doubled to $2 million a year, court records show. During the same period, Sterling's annual income from wages jumped sixfold to more than $800,000.

In 1994, after his marriage began to break up, Sterling wrote to groups of his graduates: ''. . . please do not let it diminish your trust in the message of the Men's and Women's weekends, for the sake of the future and the value of the family.''

$5,500 a month

Under terms of a July 2 divorce settlement, Sterling must pay Hill spousal support of $5,500 a month through October 1999, plus child support of $4,000 a month until their child turns 18. A restraining order requires Sterling to stay 100 yards from his daughter's school and keeps the ex-couple 100 yards apart through next spring.

Sterling's relationship with his 7-year-old daughter, who lives with Hill, is in limbo. In 1994, according to court documents, the girl told Oakland police and Children's Protective Services that her father had sexually abused her. Sterling denied it, and the Alameda County district attorney's office didn't press charges for lack of evidence. The court appointed a psychologist to give Sterling and his daughter joint therapy, and to monitor supervised visits between them up to twice a week.

This summer, the therapist, Mary S. Krentz, said she was stopping the joint therapy and cutting the visits to once a week. In some therapy sessions, Krentz wrote in a letter to State Court Judge Barbara Miller, Sterling ''would yell loudly, dispute my professional credentials and insinuate that everyone was interested in continuing this process in order to make money or validate their professional worth.''

Her recommendation: Sterling should consult ''an expert in divorce.''

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