Jury to begin deliberations in New Jersey ‘gay conversion’ therapy trial

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AP

Benjamin Unger is sworn in as a witness in the trial against Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, (JONAH) Wednesday, June 3, 2015, in Jersey City, N.J. The nonprofit New Jersey based group, who promised to turn gays heterosexual with so-called gay conversion therapy, are being sued by Unger and three other plaintiffs for fraud.Alex Remnick, The Star-Ledger via AP (Pool)

Benjamin Unger is sworn in as a witness in the trial against Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, (JONAH) Wednesday, June 3, 2015, in Jersey City, N.J. The nonprofit New Jersey based group, who promised to turn gays heterosexual with so-called gay conversion therapy, are being sued by Unger and three other plaintiffs for fraud.

Updated: 6:30 p.m. EDT

JERSEY CITY, N.J. — A lawyer representing a New Jersey nonprofit that offers so-called “gay conversion” therapy called several men suing the group “flat-out liars” during closing arguments of a civil trial Wednesday, while their attorney characterized the group as “amateurs using scalpels” on the minds of young gay men.

Jurors heard closing arguments Wednesday and were to receive instructions from the judge Thursday morning before beginning deliberations.

The lawsuit filed in 2012 accuses Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing of violating New Jersey’s consumer fraud laws by promising to turn gays into heterosexuals. To prevail, the plaintiffs need to convince a jury that JONAH, as it is called, engaged in unconscionable practices or made false promises or misrepresentations.

The trial began earlier this month and has featured testimony from the men about JONAH’s methods, which they said included using a tennis racket to beat a pillow that was meant to represent one man’s mother and engaging in role play that included a locker room scene where gay slurs were used.

The original four plaintiffs, three from Orthodox Jewish families and the fourth a Mormon, allege JONAH exploited them with false promises as they struggled with their same-sex attractions in strict religious environments where they were expected to marry women and have children.

In his summation, attorney James Bromley said JONAH’s sales pitch included telling prospective clients that it had a two-thirds success rate. JONAH co-founder Arthur Goldberg testified during the trial that the group kept no records but instead relied on anecdotal evidence from JONAH-affiliated counselors.

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Bromley said Alan Downing, a counselor who has been named as a defendant, “had no medical training, no licenses of any type.” Bromley added that one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit who had been sexually abused as a child said he participated in a re-enactment of the abuse performed by other JONAH clients, as part of a program co-created by Downing.

“All in a process designed and run by amateurs,” Bromley said.

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