The Doctor's Bonds Are Too High
A client of mine is in the process of being tarred and feathered, and I don’t much like it. Dr. Tory Westbrook has been accused of multiple counts of sexual assault by his patients. His former employer is busy at work interviewing folks. New complainants are springing up like weeds on an unkempt summer lawn. As of yesterday, 14 warrants for his arrest had been signed, sealed and delivered. More warrants are expected.
Dr. Westbrook’s license has been suspended and he has stepped down from all his professional roles as we prepare to defend him against charges we vigorously deny. He has thus far been free to spend time at home and in my office reviewing the allegations of the various complaining witnesses. That could change soon. New bonds on new warrants may break a doctor’s bank.
The doctor has not been charged with raping anyone. Despite the sound of the charges -- sexual assault -- the allegations amount to claims of groping during physical examinations. Almost all of the charges are misdemeanors.
When he was first arrested on three warrants, the court set a bond of $150,000 for each case, a cumulative bond of $450,000. The justification offered for this high bond was two-fold: protection of the community and treating each complaining witness alike. We complained about the bond and argued against it as too high for a man with substantial community ties, no criminal history, and not accused of a crime of violence.
Last week, Dr. Westbrook was served with eleven new warrants. The bond on each was $100,000. We posted that bond, too. Dr. Westbrook is now free on a cumulative $1.55 million bond.
The justification for a bond of this magnitude is by no means apparent. In court yesterday, I asked for an opportunity to be heard on the question of bond on any new warrants arising from allegations similar to those raised thus far. The trial court denied my request, noting that Dr. Westbrook would be treated like any other defendant.
Dr. Westbrook is not being treated like any other defendant in the case for three reasons:
First, this case is shaping up to be the McMartin School case of family medicine. The clinic at which the doctor worked has employed a private, independent entity to interview patients. Rumor has it these interviews are being taped. But only those who complain about Dr. Westbrook are sent to the police. What becomes of the tapes of all the testimonials to the quality of care he gave? Just as in the McMartin case, the state claims a private actor is beyond its control. Exculpatory evidence will linger in no man’s land. At what point does the court stop to consider that the charges may simply reflect something akin to mass hysteria? There was a time in New England when we executed witches.
In what recent case in Connecticut history has a defendant been accused of serial acts of groping and then been slapped with waves of arrests, and high new bonds on each file? Someone help me here; I cannot think of one. For Eighth Amendment purposes: a $1.5 million cumulative bond is sufficient to secure the man’s appearance in court. He is barred from working as a doctor while we sort all this out. He has no more access to patients. Hence, he is no threat the community. New bonds are simply punitive.
In addition, I suspect Dr. Westbrook is being slapped around because his wife is a Superior Court judge. It’s a perverse sort of rebound effect: Let’s boost confidence in the judiciary by showing the world we can swallow our own without remorse. In fact, the high bonds are likely to yield a perverse form of punishment should they continue. Dr. Westbrook’s wife, Dawne Westbrook, is a criminal court judge in Hartford. Just how many folks are sitting in jail now mumbling her name after bonds she set or sentences she imposed? If Dr. Westbrook cannot make bond and is confined, he will no doubt be placed in protective custody, a more punishing form of incarceration, to protect him from those with a score to settle against his wife. All this while cloaked in what will feel like threadbare presumption of innocence.
Finally, the court seems to be confusing bond with some sort of symbolic statement to complaining witnesses. No one is entitled to a bond set on the doctor that looks just like everyone else’s bond. That sort of assembly-line thinking misses the point: The purpose of bond is to assure appearance in court and to protect the community. Dr. Westbrook cannot practice medicine. The bond on him dwarfs that of any other person in the state charged with groping another. Assessing new bonds out of a misplaced sense that new complainants are entitled to equal treatment makes no constitutional sense at all.
Yes, I am partisan. Dr. Westbrook is a client. His wife is a former colleague and a long-time friend. But I am not engaged in special pleading here. I am asserting that there has not been another case like this in recent Connecticut history. To claim that Dr. Westbrook is being treated like others similarly situated is meaningless noise. To offer up the Eighth Amendment on an altar of hysteria is unconscionable.