The defense attorney for William Ayres, the San Mateo child psychiatrist accused of molesting seven young boys while under his care, will seek to invalidate a search warrant that led to Ayres’ arrest, which could derail the current criminal charges against him.
Doron Weinberg, Ayres’ attorney, claims investigators overstepped bounds in March 2006, when San Mateo police obtained a search warrant to confiscate files with some 700 patient names from a storage locker belonging to Ayres. Investigators used the files to search for patientswho were allegedly molested by Ayres after 1988. These alleged abuses would fall within the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution. Weinberg says using private files to contact a broad group of people violates the doctor-patient privilege.
“The privilege cannot be breached unless there is a clear public need and in this case, roaming around town trying to find patients does not justify the need,” Weinberg said.
Ayres, 75, faces 21 counts of lewd and lascivious acts for allegedly molesting seven boys who were patients between 1991 and 1996. About 30 other men have claimed to be alleged victims in the 1970s and early ’80s, which would fall outside the statute of limitations, Deputy District Attorney Melissa McKowan said.
In July 2005, Ayres settled a civil lawsuit for an undisclosed amount with a former patient, who accused him of allegedly molesting him in the 1970s. The settlement included Ayres denying the accusations. The suit propelled a police investigation in which police obtained a warrant to collect the files used to contact former patients, according to San Mateo police Capt. Mike Callagy. Ayres was arrested April 5 and is free on $750,000 bail.
Weinberg’s questioning of the legality of the search warrant rests on a 1988 state appellate court ruling that restricts law enforcement from using doctors’ files to contact patients. That case also involved a retired psychiatrist accused of sexual molestation.
Dean Johnson, a former San Mateo County prosecutor who observes high-profile cases, said a judge would have to weigh doctor-patient privilege over the importance of the investigation. McKowan declined to say whether the alleged victims were located as a result of the search warrant. She added that “it’s always a possibility” more victims will be named in the criminal case.
Weinberg said the case’s publicity has influenced former patients into mistakenly thinking they were abused while under Ayres’ care. In an interview with The Examiner in 2006, Ayres denied molesting patients but said he conducted full-body examinations.
The case’s next court date is June 28 for a preliminary hearing.