In a personal triumph over what her lawyer described as a phobia that makes it difficult for her to testify in court, Special Agent Stephanie Fierro was able to take the stand on Monday and testify for a full 20 minutes about a warrantless search she participated in as part of a child-pornography investigation. The hearing in the government's case against Christopher Buessem was originally scheduled for July, but the judge postponed it to give Fierro some time to get over her fear of testifying.
A grand jury has indicted Buessem based on images recovered in a search of his home and computer. No warrant had been issued for the search, but agents say that the defendant consented. Defense attorneys argue that Buessem could not have consented because he was "in an alcohol-induced blackout" at the time. (I have a special search set up to alert me to any use of such a defense because it is potentially useful in so many situations.)
Agent Fierro was set to testify on the issue of consent long ago, but has allegedly been unable to take the stand for months because of her condition. Her lawyer, Mark Conrad, said that his client had been suffering from depression, memory problems and "anxiety over not being able to give accurate testimony." He said she was "tormented about [possibly] making a mistake" and had an "irrational fear" of testifying. Surprisingly, the federal public defender seems to have been skeptical of this, but he was not allowed to question Fierro about her condition. A representative of Fierro's agency, the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (which it appears now also has jurisdiction over child porn), declined to comment on whether Fierro has ever experienced problems testifying before.
There is growing concern that Fierro's condition may in fact be caused by some sort of a virus, given the dramatic increase in cases of oathophobia over the past couple of years and especially its occurrence in "clusters" in certain federal agencies and parts of the Executive Branch. If left untreated, oathophobia can develop into EPD (Evasive Personality Disorder), or, in extreme cases, perjuritis.
Source (no link yet): Robert Iafolla, "U.S. Agent Overcomes Her Fear of Testifying," San Francisco Daily Journal (Aug. 21, 2007) at p. 2.