Lawyer for accused counselor calls marriage 'a train wreck'

Posted Friday, Feb. 15, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

What the Texas Penal Code says

Sec. 22.011. Sexual assault ...

(b) ... is without the consent of the other person if:

(9) the actor is a mental health services provider or a health care services provider who causes the other person, who is a patient or former patient of the actor, to submit or participate by exploiting the other person's emotional dependency on the actor;

Later, the code defines "mental health services provider" as including "licensed marriage and family therapist."

Source: Texas Penal Code

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FORT WORTH -- "Ladies and gentlemen, that marriage was a train wreck long before they went to see Sheila Loven," a defense attorney told a Tarrant County jury Friday during closing arguments in the sexual assault trial of a former marriage counselor.

"Yet they say 'but for Sheila,' they would have been fine," attorney Mark Scott said.

During the trial this week, an Arlington couple who sought counseling from Loven testified that she took advantage of what she learned during sessions to deceive them both.

Tarrant County prosecutors charged Loven, 47, with sexual assault, accusing her of breaking state law by using her influence as a counselor to coerce the husband into having sex in summer 2009.

The maximum sentence is 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

After more than three days of prosecution evidence, Loven's attorney called no witnesses.

After closing arguments, the jurors began deliberating Friday afternoon. They are to resume Tuesday. Monday is the Presidents Day holiday.

Loven surrendered her professional license on April 25, 2010, according to the website of the Texas State Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors. According to testimony, Loven and her former employer, Kool Solutions Counseling of Euless, settled a lawsuit with the couple.

In his closing argument, Scott told jurors that the wife was emotionally distant and withheld sex from her husband, would not talk to him and spent too much money. He reminded them that the husband testified that she had had one affair and may have had an affair with a financial adviser.

The couple's names are not being used because the Star-Telegram generally does not identify accusers in sexual assault cases.

Scott said that he asked the husband whether he fantasized about having sex with Loven and that the husband said no.

"Come on," Scott said. "This is a man who's been starved for attention for 15 years."

The husband had compartmentalized his feelings for Loven, Scott said. In one way, he thought of Loven as a friend, but he could also think of her as his counselor, Scott said.

"If you're thinking of her as a friend, of course you can consent to sex," he said. "If you are thinking of her as a counselor, then that becomes a little harder."

The husband did what he wanted, when he wanted and how he wanted, Scott said.

"Listen, I know you don't like Sheila," Scott said. "You don't have to like Sheila. You just have to follow the law."

The prosecution

The law, prosecutor Betty Arvin said, addresses this situation precisely.

Clergy members, police officers, teachers and counselors are professionals, and the relationship between these professionals and their clients is inherently unequal, Arvin said in her closing argument.

"He enjoyed [the sex] most of the time," Arvin said. "He didn't kill himself. How can that be illegal?

"It's illegal because they were in two different places. High school senior boys maybe enjoy having sex with the teacher, but it's still illegal. Parishioners maybe enjoy having sex with the minister, but it's illegal."

Prosecutor Sean Colston also encouraged jurors to follow the law.

"If Sheila wants to practice counseling without insurance, she just forges up a fake certificate," Colston told the jury. "If Sheila wants to hang out with her clients, she hangs out with her clients.

"The No. 1 rule is you never sleep with your clients."

The husband was emotionally needy, and Loven took advantage of that, Colston said. The husband played Russian roulette with a .357 Magnum and was suicidal, Colston said, and Loven played on his fears.

She knew which buttons to push, Colston said.

"What if this were a woman who was being treated like this by a male counselor?" Colston said. "We would have no doubt she was being exploited and that this was an illegal act."

Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752

Twitter: @mitchmitchel3

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