Ex-lover sued over suicide Damages asked from former psychologist

June 12, 1992|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Staff Writer

Before she hanged herself with string from the rafters of her basement, Kim Miller, less than a month from her 30th birthday, wrote a suicide note, which said in part:

"Please tell John, thank you for destroying my world."

"John" is John L. Setaro, 40, the former head of psychological services for the Baltimore County Police Department, according to a $6.2 million suit filed May 28 in Baltimore County Circuit Court.

The suit says Mr. Setaro counseled, then slept with Ms. Miller while she was married to a Baltimore County police officer. Ms. Miller was found dead in her Essex home on April 14.

The lawsuit, filed by Ms. Miller's husband, William B. Truitt, and her former husband, Detective Paul Jerry Miller, names Mr. Setaro, county police and Baltimore County as defendants. It alleges that Mr. Setaro's conduct led to Ms. Miller's suicide. Mr. Truitt also was filing on behalf of the woman's estate; Detective Miller also was filing on behalf of the couple's son, Jerry L. Miller, 3.

"It's a sad, tough case," said Thomas J. Dolina, attorney for Mr. Truitt.

Mr. Setaro, who said he does not have money to hire an attorney, said Ms. Miller's suicide was a "shock" to him, because she had remarried and it appeared to him that she was putting their relationship behind her.

"Of course, I feel very bad about her death," he said. "But it's been a number of years since I had contact with her. . . .

"If I could take back my depression and my clouding of judgment, I would. But I can't take it back," he said.

The suit charges that Mr. Setaro, who began counseling Ms. Miller in the fall of 1989 for marital problems and postpartum depression, abused his position by having sex with her. The relations allegedly began in January 1990.

The suit also charges that Mr. Setaro told Ms. Miller that he planned to leave his wife, move in with Ms. Miller and marry her.

"He saw her as a patient," said Mr. Dolina. "He fell in love with her and he slept with her in county-paid rental office space."

The suit charges that after a complaint was filed with the State Board of Examiners of Psychologists in February 1990, "he abandoned her," Mr. Dolina said.

But yesterday, Mr. Setaro, who lives in Carney, said that he didn't abandon Ms. Miller and that the complaint against him was not filed until a year after he ended the relationship.

"I broke off the relationship while I was hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital for the good of Ms. Miller and because it was ethically mandated," he said.

He said that they both needed therapy and he urged her to continue with another psychologist, even offering to pay for the treatment. But he's not sure if she continued the therapy or not.

As for whether he had anything to do with her committing suicide, Mr. Setaro said:

"Part of me still wonders. Did I contribute? I just don't know. I certainly didn't help her."

Ms. Miller had attempted suicide twice in the fall of 1989, around the time she began her counseling sessions with Mr. Setaro, according to the lawsuit.

Eventually, the misconduct complaint against Mr. Setaro was heard by Administrative Law Judge Suzanne Wagner, who ruled that Mr. Setaro's conduct was unethical and that he should lose his license to practice psychology in Maryland. The state board agreed. Mr. Setaro would not say where he is working now for fear the publicity would embarrass his employer.

In a strongly worded opinion of July 11, 1991, written by Chairman Lawrence Donner, the board ordered Mr. Setaro's license revoked, calling his conduct "intolerable."

During the three-day hearing before Judge Wagner, Mr. Setaro admitted having sex with Ms. Miller but, according to Mr. Donner's written opinion, he also said he had been vulnerable at the time and was "deeply remorseful."

At the hearing, Mr. Setaro offered as mitigation the fact that he was in love with Ms. Miller, that he felt guilty for what had happened and that he himself had sought counseling afterward.

"The board has its doubts concerning the truth of these mitigating arguments," wrote Mr. Donner. Even if true, "they do not excuse or justify" his conduct.

H. Emslie Parks, the county attorney, said earlier this week that although the suit describes a "pathetic case," neither the police department nor the county is at fault because the county contends Mr. Setaro was treating Ms. Miller privately.

He also said that the county would not be representing Mr. Setaro.

"We see it as a suit between the former psychologist and the estate and heirs of the woman," he said. "We don't see any liability on the part of the county, or the Police Department."

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