Aug
05

Sexpohrenia Strikes Danbury Courthouse

If you are going to stand up in the well of the court and demand accountability on behalf of the people of the State of Connecticut from some poor schmuck charged with a crime, you ought at least to be accountable yourself. But in the Danbury State’s Attorney’s Office, accountability is a twisted joke.
 
It appears there are special rules for prosecutors. They get a pass when their actions cross certain lines. Consider the case of the man who loved feet, women’s feet to be exact. What’s a little fetishism among friends?

Oh, I know, I know. It might not be a violation of the law for a prosecutor to go to work each day armed with a secret spy camera in one of his pens. Yeah, go right ahead Mr. Minister of Justice, and take a few sneak shots of all the ladies’ feet and legs. Check out that defendant? She’s hot, huh? And what about the legs on that lawyer? Hubba, hubba. And would you get a load of those judicial arches?

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am creeped out by what I am reading about Senior State’s Attorney David Holzbach. If what has been reported is true, he needs help and has no business in the well of court. Why I might fire an employee of mine who engaged in such conduct on the job. Wouldn’t you?

The state’s top prosecutors are apparently not too troubled by such behavior, and they have not been troubled by it for decades. Danbury, a veritable fortress of rectitude in the prosecution of sex crimes, has a soft spot for the libidinal vagaries of folks working in its office. Press reports reflect that a veteran prosecutor in the office has long been known to have an unusual interest in females in the building. He’s apparently been sent home without pay for playing James Bond with a foot fetish.

Can you hear them calling for accountability in the Hat City? The chant goes something like this: Come out, come out, wherever you are.

Watching Danbury State’s Attorney Stephen Sedensky and Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane dawdle and pussyfoot around on this matter gives new meaning to the old quip about the feckless fearing what nude photos may be in the possession of the cat allowed to escape with the canary. When asked for information by the press, they claim they cannot talk about it. It is a personal matter, they say. When reached at home to comment, Holzbach reports he hasn’t any idea why he’s been sent home on leave. Really?

I do business in that courthouse and I suspect this piece will not earn me any favors there. But, then again, I wasn’t asking for any in the first instance. Let me just come out and say it: What in the world is going on in Danbury? Does anyone care?

I know the rap about sex offenders. They operate furtively, always hiding their sins, lest the world know what inspires them. Driven by shame, their lust drives them to ever greater outrages. Beware the preoccupied man unable to make eye contact. Beware the hunched shoulders. Beware silent predator claiming righteousness but hiding a multitude of sins.
Or maybe just beware Danbury. Maybe they’re so hot to trot about the prosecution of sex crimes because there are unresolved issues smoldering beneath justice’s facade.

An enterprising Title VII lawyer might sport in Danbury’s halls of justice. Was the work environment hostile while a favored colleague and friend pranced the halls doing the fetishist’s leer? Did management know and do nothing? Were there complaints that were swept up under the rug and ignored?

I first heard about this investigation months ago from a courthouse gossip. When I brought it up in a pre-trial and wondered whether the controversy would erupt during jury selection in a sex case I was trying, I was met with an awkward sort of silence. No one denied the truth of what I was told.

Disgust about sums up my take on the State’s Attorney’s Office just now. There are good people working there, don’t get me wrong. But the next time some prosecutor starts chest-thumping accountability and righteousness, I’m going to be paying special attention to whether they leave stains on their chest.
Reprinted courtesy of the Connecticut Law Tribune.

Jul
31

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.

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About Norm Pattis

Norm Pattis is a Connecticut based trial lawyer focused on high stakes criminal cases and civil right violations. He is a veteran of more than 100 jury trials, many resulting in acquittals for people charged with serious crimes, multi-million dollar civil rights and discrimination verdicts, and scores of cases favorably settled.

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I believe that the state is a necessary fiction and that failing to combat it is the first step toward tyranny.
– Norm Pattis

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