McCollum's staff had questions about selection of expert

Gay adoption: Past decision to hire now-disgraced psychologist draws fire

The Herald-Tribune, Florida/June 4, 2010

Tallahassee -- The hiring of a now-disgraced psychologist to defend Florida's ban on gay adoption was done over the objections of the main attorney defending the case for the state, according to records made public Thursday.

Nevertheless, Attorney General Bill McCollum pushed for the hiring of the psychologist George Rekers, who was at the time a leading advocate for conservative social issues.

The controversy has emerged as an issue in the governor's race, in which McCollum is the leading Republican candidate. Gay rights advocates say it showed poor judgment on the part of McCollum and reflects the flawed efforts Republicans have made to keep gays from adopting.

Florida wound up paying more than $120,000 to hire Rekers, whose credibility was tarnished after he recently went on a European vacation with a gay male escort. The state's ban on gay adoption was declared unconstitutional by a Miami judge in late 2008 who criticized Rekers as "not credible."

The e-mails released Thursday show that an attorney in McCollum's own office warned against hiring Rekers, whose testimony had been deemed suspect in an earlier Arkansas lawsuit that challenged a ban on placing foster children in homes with gay parents.

Assistant Attorney General Valerie Martin wrote in a July 2007 e-mail that after talking to Arkansas officials and reviewing the background of the former University of South Carolina professor that she would "recommend NOT using him."

E-mails also show that during a conference call Martin -- who said the state considered more than 30 possible expert witnesses -- was ordered to hire Rekers "against my strong cautions."

The e-mails were included in public records that were obtained from McCollum's office detailing the selection and payment of Rekers. McCollum said he agreed to release the records even though the lawsuit is still on appeal so the public could see "the entire process" used in selecting Rekers.

McCollum on Thursday again defended the hiring of Rekers and said that one of the reasons he was hired is that he had been used as an expert witness in a previous federal lawsuit that had challenged the ban. Other attorneys in his office believed Rekers could help if the case wound up getting appealed.

"There were discussions and there were differences of opinion among our attorneys over the hiring of this expert witness. There was a decision made ultimately by me," said McCollum.

Florida taxpayers paid Rekers an initial payment of more than $60,000, but then he got a second payment in 2009 even though Rekers did not have a contract.

Robert Hannah, the deputy attorney general and chief counsel for McCollum, said the extensive time spent on the case resulted in Rekers exceeding the initial amount the state agreed to pay him. He said Rekers notified the state before the first trial that he was spending more time than expected. Hannah said similar situations happen in many cases that involve expert witnesses.

"You don't just drop an expert because he says 'I need more money,' you just keep going," Hannah said.

Hannah said Florida has paid expert witnesses in legal cases much higher amounts than what was paid to Rekers. McCollum also said that detailed records show that Rekers earned the money he was eventually paid.

"I think there should be no doubt about the fact that he actually performed the function that he was asked to do, he did the work," McCollum said. "This is not a case of overpaying him, he was paid a reasonable fee."

McCollum's office was brought in by the Department of Children and Families to defend the state's three-decade old ban on gay adoption after it was challenged by Martin Gill. Gill is a North Miami man who wanted to adopt two foster children that are living with him and his partner.

Records show that DCF did not want to hire Rekers as an expert witness in the lawsuit because he wanted to charge $300 an hour. DCF only agreed to his hiring after McCollum strongly recommended it.

Rekers helped found the conservative Family Research Council back in the 1980s and was also once on the board of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, which promotes "therapeutic treatment" of those who "struggle with unwanted homosexuality."

But the psychologist resigned from the council after he was caught returning to Miami with a male escort whose services had been advertised on a website called

Rekers has said he hired the man to carry his luggage for him on a trip to Europe, but Jo-vanni Roman, also known as Lucien, later told one news network he gave Rekers "sexual massages" on the trip. Rekers on his own website has said he did not know about Roman's ad on until after the trip was in progress and that he was not involved in any "illegal or sexual behavior" with him.

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