FALL OF SYNANON I (Legal Blunder of Garfield-Garrett)

The Fall of Synanon I (Legal blunders of Garfield and Garrett)

By Paul Morantz

© August 24, 2010


The defining moment in Synanon’s ultimate death ride is rooted in l967 when Charles Dederich instituted Containment which meant that Synanon became a closed society which supplied for all of its members needs and discouraged any contacts whatsoever or of any kind outside of Synanon property. At that point Synanon set itself on course to create a state of mind of superiority and self-defense paranoia, where contrary advice was not available and an inevitable doomsday philosophy loomed, all set for an inevitable time that some unchallenged crazed philosophy would engulf the community and lead to its destruction. See Today is the First Day of the Rest of Your Life

That eventual time came in l974 when Synanon so openly believed in Charles Dederich infallibility that the organization became a religion based upon his ever-changing ideas and finally as a result of almost 20 years of combativeness and paranoia from his long ago jail sentence (See The True History of Synanon Violence and How it Started) led to the institution of violence against temporary juvenile members whose presence were mainly for tax purposes.

By l974 the IRS was challenging Synanon’s tax-exempt basis arguing that it was no longer a drug rehab but an experimental society (which Charles Dederich was openly declaring). To counter, Synanon sought to have juveniles sent to it for rehabilitation in order to establish a public service was being offered. But as they were not voluntary members (Synanon put them in the “”Punk Squad”) but youth capable of talking back Dederich impatience and obsession with respect led to the approval of physical striking that would eventually tip over into violence against disobedience by members and then violence against its enemies. In the contained world of Synanon there were no checks and balances to counter Charles Dederich when he finally declared they were in a holy war and would adapt the means and methods of the Mafia to fight it. He liked analogies to being the head of the Ponderosa, a big man that nobody would mess with. And that is what happens in totalistic movements ( See The True History of Synanon Violence and How it Started ) i.e. power creates insanity in the leader what then is transferred and rationalized as reasonable by its followers.

Further, Dr. Dan Casriel in his book So Fair a House noted that psychological testing revealed Synanon members were still antisocial which meant that might be parroting behavior rather than changing. He suggested the need to add psychotherapy but Dederich rejected that. If Dr. Casriel was accurate then one can imagine the internal response with ex criminals in Synanon when the rule of no violence was replaced with a call to pick up ax handles. The old golden days of the street had returned with approval and gusto.

And so in l974 a legal memo circulated on the proposal of Synanon becoming a religion. The advantages would be a religion does not pay taxes, people do not leave a religion and would explain why people have to obey. Handwritten was a question that certainly must have been entered in jest: if Synanon becomes a religion “who will be God?”

The Lawyers

While the above were the psychological themes leading to Synanon’s end, arguably concluding in the insanity of its attacks on me and Phil Ritter (See True Story of RAttlesnake in the mailbox), the key events in providing the evidence of the Synanon conspiracy to commit terrorism came not from investigations but from arguably the 2 worst legal decisions ever made by lawyers—no less than the suggested malpractice the number one in his class at Hastings—Dan Garrett, and the former number one in his class at Harvard—Howard Garfield. This story deals with the first decision. Fall of Synanon II will deal with the other.

Their roots to Synanon came from different directions. Garrett had been a drunk who had never lived up to his legal capabilities and then was attracted to the instant power Synanon could provide him. He loved being the consigliore, to being able to wear a gun and give orders that others be destroyed or beaten. Garfield knew he was brilliant and wanted something more, i.e. a spiritual side; to be seen as someone who dedicated his gift to service of others than so much for money. Whatever his motivations, the evidence is strong that he was majorly involved in Synanon’s move to violence and keeping it from being revealed.

So in February of 1978 Garrett Garfield would join together to make the greatest legal blunder this author knows of. They violated legal textbook that you never have your client volunteer information when testifying, give your client an open ended question, or allow him/her to ramble. So tight is testimony to be to prevent a mistake, a client would be instructed as he was asked to identify the make of his car and not to volunteer its color. The last thing attorneys would do is not to even wait for the questions to come to your client but question him themselves with an invite for open ended speeches.

But Garfield — Garrett would do this by taking a deposition of Dederich in the Synanon/Dederich lawsuit against Time magazine. The partners in the Synanon legal Department created a fiction for the day where the appeared not as partners but Garfield appeared as Synanon’s lawyer and Garrett appeared as Dederich’s lawyer and Garfield did the questioning. Time magazine fearing this was a trap to force them to examine and waive their right to a future deposition before they had investigated (only one deposition of witness may be taken without court approval) and were ready to examine declined to attend . Garfield and Garrett went on in Time’s absence and in the end such credible stupidity provided a smoking gun in proving Dederich’s guilt in guiding Synanon’s Holy War of terrorism.

To explain this certain status both history and future in relation to that deposition must be stated. From its birth the Synanon game (a form of attack group therapy where members tried to change the behavior of others) was described to the public as having no rules other than no violence allowed or threat of violence. One could lie or do any manipulation to affect the behavior of another. But once the game had ended, truth was expected. In the late 70’s Synanon added a new method of cause and effect known as Think Table or Court, where Charles Dederich would speak various philosophies of how he wanted people to be , think and do into a microphone which would be broadcast throughout the community, tape-recorded and re-broadcast into a world that had reached George Orwell’s l984 in advance of that date. These tape recordings were maintained as well as typed and bound as Think Tables Summaries describing what Charles Dederich said on every subject.

Now fast forward into the future after that March of l978 deposition. Unforeseen to Garfield and Garrett Synanon at the time was the increasingly about to become under government investigation largely resulting from private investigations by me and David Mitchell of the Point Reyes Light (see Escape from Synanon, I, II and III).

After the rattlesnake attack on me the Los Angeles police department, the Los Angeles Dist. Atty. and Atty. Gen.’s office combined forces to investigate Synanon, now being concerned a dangerous community state of mind in Synanon existed similar to the Charlie Manson family that lived in the desert paranoid of enemies and eventually in 1969 committed a series of horrifying murders planned to start race riots that would leave Manson in control of the world (dubbed Helter Skelter).

Led by one of the greatest prosecutors ever in the district attorney’s office, Steve Trott, the Synanon Badger facility—The Home Place– located in Visalia, was raided by massive joint law enforcement agencies to execute a search warrant for tape recordings and documents revealing that Synanon members were involved in a conspiracy to commit murder. The Synanon lawyers were not so stupid as to not see it coming. An operation had already been in place by Synanon wherein tape recordings were listened to for damaging evidence. What tapes Synanon ultimately gave up had far more erasures than anything Richard Nixon ever produced.

The task force found little on the raid, but then one officer as they were all leaving saw out of the corner of his eyes 3 tapes rubber banded together that had fallen behind a cabinet. One tape—The Freebies Are Over– describe how Synanon was raiding the non profit structure by having a private corporation in Lake Havasu, Arizona- The Home Place, Inc. run by Synanon hierarchy charge to Synanon for providing its counseling and then providing salaries to the hierarchy.

But it was another tape tied to it that would shock the world. It was a Think Table tape entitled New Religious Posture and on it Dederich is heard explaining some history of Synanon violence, who they had attacked, that they would attack more, that they would get over there ineptitude in violence by the training of the Imperial Marines and they would become masters of violence. He said he wanted to break legs and that killing someone was an acceptable outcome. Synanon would get out the word that no one should mess with them. And lawyers, like me—I was named– would be taught lessons.
Dederich said on this tape the direction would once again “decimate our population.” People not willing to trust and go along would be squeezed out by the notion. But this was good. Only the best and truly loyal people would remain. He said there were people in Synanon who would be excited by the “sound of cracking bones” and who would want to bring him an “ear in a glass of alcohol (Marine Joe Musico had talked of cutting off ears in Vietnam), .” Synanon would grow stronger. There were those inside and those who would come wanting a new militant religious posture.
“I propose,” he said “that we be in the vanguard of that, because we’ve already tested it out in various small, tiny, minuscule ways by beating up the Dinuba punks, by beating up the San Francisco punks, by chasing the dingbats around with our Hey Rubes and so on.
“We’re beginning now most ineptly to throw people downstairs in Santa Monica. We won’t be as inept at this in another–another six months.
“We started quite a while ago with the Imperial Marine deal and–and so on. We’re doing that; we’re taking our best people, putting them into this kind of situation; and it is our intention to do just exactly that…
“And– and I— I– I think that we–we could, without too much effort, get a reputation that will be all over the United States within one year’s time– Don’t fuck with Synanon. In any way…
“Don’t go near the nuts on the beach because they’ll beat the shit out of you…
“I think that is our– is– is– religious posture… We’ll see. Maybe I’m right. I think–I think we–I think we will bring that about.
“We are not going to mess with the — — with the old time –turn the other cheek religious posture.– –We’re going to — — our — — our religious posture is – ‘Don’t mess with us. You can get killed dead. Physically dead.’
“We either–we either have a good thing here or we don’t. If we have a good thing here, then we are not going to permit people, like–greedy lawyers, to destroy it.
“I’m quite willing to break some lawyer’s legs and then tell him the next time I break your wife’s legs; then I’m going to cut your kid’s arm off; and try me, because this is only a sample…you son of a bitch. Like that. And that’s the end of your lawyer. That’s the end. And all of his friends. You see…
“It’s a — it’s a very satisfactory, humane way of transmitting information. It’s worked.”
I was in Hawaii in December lf 1978 for the USC-Hawaii game when deputy DA John Watson called me and said I was to come home and go back under police protection. They were going to arrest Dederich.
Synanon tried to squash the search warrant as invalid and get the tape returned but lost the motion. The judge then stated the world needed to know what was on the the tape and it was played for the media in the courtroom. When Dederich was arrested drunk in Arizona Synanon authorities found in his possession typed Think Table Summaries showing what Dederich said on each occasion he spoke at Court. There were numerous descriptions of executing violence, comparing Synanon to the Mafia and the welcoming of the sounds of breaking bones.

Synanon countered by having its member and historian Steve Simon write papers that Think Court was an extension of the Synanon game in which truth was not relevant and people could play different roles and say outlandish things in order to motivate discussion. None of it was serious. The incriminating tapes were argued to be meaningless hyperbole.

There was a problem for Simon is there was no documentation of such Synanon claim that Think Table was an outstretch of the game Synanon until after the Religious Posture tape seizure and Simon decided to then state it was. Second, I advised law enforcement that the beatings described on the tape, such as the beatings of the Dinuba punks, the San Franciso Punks and Santa Monica basement beatings were all attacks that did in fact occur and their recitation took it out of the imaginary realm. There new position, I stated, it was “fantasy” would allow all Synanon past victims of violence to testify to prove what was said on the tape was reality. Third I rearranged all of the Think Table Summaries by subject matter category and it revealed that Dederich said the same thing every time he spoke on any subject. There was no taking of different roles.

Still this was the legal issue in the criminal case against Dederich—were his Think Table speeches serious orders or a make believe game–until a Saturday night in 1979 when I picked up the Synanon deposition of Charles Dederich in the Time Magazine case that Garfield — Garrett had arranged. It was around a year from the deposition’s actual taking. I had the depo in a large box of Synanon things to read when I got around to it. I didn’t expect much to be in it since Synanon alone took it so it had not been a high priority. But this night I dusted it off, laid back in bed and read.

And within moments I realized I was reading what amounted to the Charles Dederich confession, something he said back in March of l978 that he had no idea would do him in after the events of the upcoming October and confirmation that the last thing any lawyer does is allow his client to testify unnecessarily let alone create this fiction Garrett represented Dederich and Garfield represented Synanon and throw open questions at him.

Why did they do it? The answer seemed apparent. Dederich’s testimony appeared an attempt an extension of the New Religious Posture aimed at Time Magazine. He testified that he hoped Time Magazine, which wrote Synanon was now a Kooky Cult because of its experiment with changing partners (all couples had to switch), would realize that it needed to settle, pay Synanon money and apologize before angry Synanon people who believed Synanon had saved their lives committed acts of violence on members of Time Magazine or their families. Dederich professed he would not do such things but could not prevent them.

The purpose of the deposition appeared that. Dederich, Garrett and Garfield by Dederich’s comments wanted Time to feel it was in danger of violence until they did something to right it. It was an implied, if not explicit, threat of physical harm, especially if paired with known Synanon violence that occurred as of that time. It was consistent with other recent Synanon actions. Dederich had spoken similarly to NBC saying families of Time may not be safe and that “bombs” might go off in their homes. Synanon members also appeared at an ABC stockholders meeting to ask if executive’s wives had protection. One Synanon speaker said he was a former member of Murder, Inc.

But the mistake was made in the first question of the deposition. Garfield asked Dederich to explain how he spends his usual day. It was as open ended a question as one could imagine. And Dederich of course liked to talk and talk he did. He explained for pages that he did not run Synanon like other CEO’s. He did not give direct orders but instead stated at Think Table what he wanted them to do and they left it to them to get it done. He said if he said he was thirsty pitchers of water would suddenly appear on his table. He further stated that he used the Synanon game to get into the “woof and warp” of Synanon what he wanted them to do. In other words, he ran Synanon by manipulation.

The next morning when the district attorneys assigned to my case. Larry Carroll and John Watson, arrived at work they found me sitting on the floor in front of their office with my arms wrapped around the deposition. I looked up and said “I have his confession.”

Charles Dederich, thanks to Garrett and Garfield, would have no defense as to the veracity of what he said. Both attorneys would leave Synanon before his pleading to the criminal charges. Garfield actually left in September of l978 after alcohol drinking commenced in Europe. In fall of l978 Synanon purchased the Boston House apartment building and used scare tatics and threats to try to force tenants out so Synanon could set up an Embassy to the White House. There was actual contact with the Carter administration through his advisor Peter Bourne who also had contact with Werner Erhard of est (See How I Saved The Los Angeles Police Department). Publicity over harassment and an NBC segment 3 on Synanon that included violence (which I was a source) brought the media around. Dederich was arrested for striking a photographer and then jumped bail and fled to Europe with his entourage. There after more than 20 years of sobriety he returned to getting drunk. He would be find drunk when finally arrested in Lake Havesu in December.

Taking attorney-client privilege Garfield never really talked. We deposed him but got little. Some ex-Synanon people said he rebelled at talk of violence, alcohol drinking and talk in Europe by Dederich that the next Synanon notion was going to involve multiple sexual partners.

After Dederich was arrested Garrett ran Synanon until Dederich recovered sufficiently to take command back and then demoted Garrett for having run it; as he done in the past with others who have become a challenge to his power. Garrett left and acknowledged Synanon had gone astray but did it give the details, particularly his own involvement. Once when I was in San Francisco over a legal proceeding involving the estate of the People’s Temple I cringed hearing his voice in another courtroom arguing the case. How can anyone, I thought, be involved in so much terror be allowed to stand before the court as an attorney.

But then I thought be thankful for Dan Garrett. After all, he and Garfield were instruments in Synanon’s downfall.

Garrett after Dederich’s arrest in a drunken stupor temporarily ran Synanon. In l979 when Dederich took back command he forced his best buddy out. Garrett, now in private law practice in San Francisco and Martinez, Calif before passing.

Garfield went on to an expected enormously successful career as partner in a top San Francisco law firm. It was reported to me not long after he left Synanon in l978 he taught a class in ethics. He is listed in Who’s Who in American Law and was selected in 2004 by San Francisco Magazine as one of the Bay Area’s Superlawyers.

The Synanon attorney who took over the Synanon legal department of Synanon after Garrett and Garfield were gone, Phil Bourdette, has been a life long friend and successful attorney in Visalia.