Thursday, April 7, 2011

A truly heroic public defender

I received this email recently, and am publishing it with some changes, as suggested by the author. It is the story of a public defender who tore up a prosecutor's false accusation case. This attorney now is in private practice.

In May of 1997 my ex-wife made a false allegation of child sexual abuse to Child Protective Services. I went through nine months of hell. I was earning $28,000 a year at the time so my only choice for legal counsel was to accept the services of a public defender. The PD, a fairly young woman named Camille Neider was full of integrity and very hard-working. In January of 1998 she came to the preliminary hearing with two three-inch-thick binders full of documents she had subpoened. She had key passages highlighted and had put tabs on the key pages. She was calm and brilliant. After a few minutes it became apparent that this woman was working a miracle. She questioned my ex-wife and two of my sons. At some points it seemed the judge was about to fall off his chair in astonishment. After about an hour and 20 minutes (most of the time being taken up by Ms. Neider), the judge said he wanted to see the prosecutor and the defender in his chamber. They emerged about 20 minutes later. The judge announced he was taking the case under advisement and would let all parties know within 30 days whether or not the court would proceed to a full hearing.

Then Ms. Neider took me into a separate room where I met with her and her legal intern. She said, "Now I'm going to tell you what really went on in the judge's chamber." She said that the prosecutor said, "There's no way in hell I'm going to prosecute this case." The judge replied, "Don't worry, I wouldn't let you...Like this woman is going to convince a jury that her son isn't lying?! I don't think so."

Ms. Neider told me that they had to come up with a diversion. I asked what she meant. She said the judge had to help the prosecutor "cover his ass." “How so?” I asked. She explained that in these days of "so much hysteria" over child abuse allegations it could destroy the prosecutor's career if he comes to be viewed as not being willing to prosecute a case of alleged child abuse.

Two days later the prosecutor dropped the charges on his own (without a diversion having been worked out). The next day the judge dismissed the case entirely.

I started the process of having my record expunged with all the relevant agencies (city police, county sheriff's office, state office of criminal investigations (whatever it's called), and the FBI). I also called the Office of Administrative hearings and told them I wanted CPS's "substantiation" expunged. The head guy there told me it was too late...I had missed some deadline. I said that the case had just been dismissed a few days ago and asked if he would have allowed me to appeal the substantiation while the case was still pending. He said, "Good point" and eventually scheduled a hearing with the agent from CPS who had substantiated against me, and himself, and me.

That hearing took a full morning in May or June of 1998. In that meeting the CPS agent admitted that she had substantiated against me in violation of state regulations (she had substantiated after speaking with only one person: my ex-wife). The administrator asked her why she did that. Her answer: pressure from the police. (And yes, I had foolishly trusted the police and met with an officer without having a lawyer present...and boy do they twist things!) In November 1998 I got a letter from the Office of Administrative Hearings. They had completed their investigation and ordered CPS to unsubstantiate the prior substantiation (from May 1997) (there is no mechanism in our state law to expunge a substantiation). In May of 1999 I got a letter from CPS saying that they had changed the original report from "substantiated" to "unsubstantiated".

I'm leaving out many, many details of the severe anguish the false allegations caused me. Unfortunately the damage to my six children was also very real, especially to two of them. My ex-wife had put these two (who were also my most troubled son and daughter) in counseling with a "therapist" who believed in the recovery of repressed memories. (In one of the subpoened documents containing the therapist's notes to himself he stated that he "supported my son" by telling him that all his troubles came from "the fact" that his father had molested him! Of course, he would have gotten that idea from my ex.) In the hearing my son answered Ms. Neider as noted here.

Ms. Neider: How certain were you at the time the report was first made, that your father had molested you?
Son: Not very certain [or something to that effect]
Ms. Neider: How certain are you NOW that your father molested you?
Son: Completely certain [or something to that effect]
[I still have a complete 160-page transcript from that hearing.]

My son and I eventually reconciled—though he was troubled for years. Then it seemed he was making good progress from the time he was 19 (2000) until the day he committed suicide (early January 2009). I believe that a child who thinks he or she was molested suffers just as much psychological damage as a child who was molested.

My troubled daughter is now 25. She has just taken the initiative during the last 3 weeks to reconcile with me. She didn't know me well due to the fact that my wife left me when my daughter was 7 years old. To keep peace with her mother my daughter was more or less required to hate me. One year ago I feared she'd die prematurely due to the heavy burdens that she carried. She's made some miraculous changes in her life since then—including marrying a man who seems to truly love her. She and her husband have moved to another state and are therefore also away from the influence of her, dare I say, vindictive mother.

Of course, there's a lot more to this story. I can't say how grateful that I am for the good people who helped me (and my children) along the way. I would say that my state’s judicial system is as screwed up as that of any other state, but I recognize that I was fortunate enough (blessed enough) to have dealt with some very honest, intelligent, dedicated, and kind-hearted professionals who made the difference between justice having been met (for a large part—though not entirely, of course) and my possibly having gone to prison for 15 years for a crime that I didn't do and that in fact never happened at all.

Your work is important in alerting Americans to the plight of corrupt laws and, worse than that, corrupt officials. I do not doubt that many innocent persons are unjustly imprisoned. What amazing stories will come out and what fitting punishments and rewards will be handed out come judgment day!


Asha said...

I have a question, if a person feels that the appeal judges did not look at the files (evidence) that were put together by the appeals attorney, what is the next step to take?

kbp said...

...She said the judge had to help the prosecutor "cover his ass."

Sounds like a FAMILY COURT judge!

Doc Ellis 124 said...

Greetings Dr Anderson,


Thank you for writing this

Doc Ellis 124

Lame said...

Hi All,

It's been a really long time since I've been around here, I know. I've been really busy lately, AND I've got some good news. Tennessee is about to get a whole lot Lame-er. That's right, I've been accepted to begin work towards my PhD in history at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville this fall. Of course, now that I'm in, I'm trying to get the money to pay for tuition, housing, et cetera. So, if anyone knows of a great employer in Knoxville, TN area that pays a decent wage & is willing to work with a college student's course/research/writing schedule, please let me know.

Anyhow, what brought this site to mind is an article I just read in the local news media (local to me) about a woman who ACTUALLY sexually abused her own daughter in order to blame her ex-husband and obtain a favorable custody settlement. It's quite disturbing that a woman would actually do this (by what it states in the article, the only thing she could have done was use her finger to penetrate her daughter & tear the soft tissue, probably the hymen), just to get custoday. It is further proof that there are people out there who will do the most horrible things imaginable in order to get back at someone whom they perceived as having harmed them. Here's the article:

Anonymous said...

I'm in the middle of this situation myself. "Futile" is the word that comes to mind. The variables in my destiny suddenly dwindle.