University seeks protection of counseling records

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- An attorney hired by the University of Alaska says prosecutors should not have access to the counseling records of a student-athlete charged with kidnapping and sexual assault.

The district attorney's office is seeking records from Cameron Watts' visits to a campus counselor, but the university argues those conversations are protected.

The former Lathrop High School basketball standout was attending UA-Fairbanks on a basketball scholarship when he was arrested in November and charged with assaulting his former girlfriend.

He has pleaded innocent to one count of sexual assault and multiple counts of kidnapping and assault.

The university hired Fairbanks attorney Ken Covell to argue its case and fight a search warrant served Jan. 22 to obtain Watts' mental health records from the University Center for Health and Counseling.

At a hearing Tuesday, District Attorney Teresa Foster said that to protect the files, they should be sealed and delivered to the court. Attorneys could then debate whether the files could be used as evidence.

Watts may have made an admission to a crime when he talked to one of the counselors at the center, Foster said.

However, Covell and Watts' attorney, Paul Canarsky contend any communication between a patient and a counselor is confidential.

''The state is trying to make some exception to violate the privilege,'' Covell said. ''With a privilege, it's absolute.''

Dr. John Fellerath, administrator of the campus health center, said there are few exceptions to that rule.

''If we have serious reason to believe that there was an immediate threat to any person and we knew who the person was, we would do what we could do to protect them,'' Fellerath said, by notifying the threatened person or police. ''That's a fairly rare occurrence.''

Foster said in Watt's case, concerns for someone's safety did emerge from the center.

Superior Court Judge Ralph Beistline said he would make a decision about the records March 8.

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