Maybe it would be different if her daughter was a teen or younger, but the alleged victim is now over the age of majority and, theoretically, capable of speaking for herself. But mothers will always be mothers.
“We’ve been living with this for four years,” the mother said. “It’s been constant delays. All I’m asking for is fairness for this, please,” she told Superior Court Judge Joseph Rea.
More than a dozen supporters of the victim were also in the courtroom. The defendant, John Angeline, 44, had apparently been told he did not need to attend the hearing.
The defendant was a former South Plainfield, New Jersey, school teacher accused of sexual assault. It’s the sort of crime that gives rise to outrage, and this court appearance was no exception. But when the unnamed mother expressed her frustration, it wasn’t because the judge asked.
According to Salmon the gallery that was full and the judge even pointed out there were more people in his courtroom than usual. “I sat there dumbfounded how the judge showed little compassion for a mother’s plea for fairness when setting a date for trial, begging that after 4 and a half years it would come to an end soon,” said Salmon. “In my opinion the judge allowed the attorney to fumble around dates trying to prolong closure on the case until a suitable date was agreed upon. At no point during my time in court did I feel both parties were on equal playing ground, more considerations were being given to the defense than the victim. Perhaps an impartial jury is what is needed to settle the case.”
See the glaring error here? The “victim” isn’t a party to this proceeding, but this eluded the person interviewed, Amanda Salmon, who couldn’t understand why the court, in the common task of fixing a trial date, didn’t elicit the mother’s thoughts on the issue. And since the judge didn’t ask the mother, she decided it was her right to let him know her thoughts anyway.
Rea, showing his irritation with the interruption, told the mother and the victim that he was trying to set a trial date for the case, but there were many cases on the trial list.
“Keep your mouth shut and sit down,” Rea told the mother and her now adult child who acknowledged being the victim of the assaults.
It’s unclear whether the mother was asked politely to not interrupt the proceeding and refused before the judge admonished her in strong language, or whether the judge lost his cool. Even under the worst of circumstances, these probably aren’t words a judge should use with anyone, no less the mother of an alleged victim of sexual assault by a teacher.
Of course, if the mother is asked nicely to stop talking, to stop interrupting the proceedings, and refuses, the next step would be to have her removed from the courtroom. That could be necessary, but it’s a different remedy than language like this.
The judge’s language aside, the misapprehension on the part of the mother, of the people in the gallery, reflects another problem. There is now a perception, fostered by victim’s rights law, Marsy’s laws, and the media that criminal proceedings aren’t just between the prosecution and defense, but include the putative victim and the public as well. They perceive themselves as being every bit the party to the proceeding as anyone else, and entitled to all the rights they feel they’re due.
“I have never witnessed such a display of anger from a judge that was not warranted and it was clearly directed at the victim and the victim’s family,” said Jill Pavel. “From the start of the proceedings the judge made it clear to all in the courtroom that he was displeased a plea deal had not be resolved. He rambled out loud that he was annoyed, he would have to involve the State Police there because of letters he had received this week.
According to Pavel, there was no yelling from anyone in the galley. “Everyone collectively groaned at the excuses that were being given to the judge from the defense attorney as to why his client was not in the court room and why it was not convenient for him to be in court prior to 2020. The judge was verbally demeaning to the victim and the victim’s mother. The mother pleaded with the judge to put the trial on the calendar for this year, she stated that the court proceedings have gone on for 4.5 years and her son is suffering as a result.”
A week before this hearing, a deal had been struck that involved no Meagan’s Law registration. The prosecutor subsequently changed his mind and the deal fell apart, so the case went back on the trial calendar. This is part of the process of criminal proceedings, as is finding a trial date that is doable for the lawyers and court.
For better or worse, this is all routine. Deals fall apart. Scheduling trial dates involves coordinating availability. This isn’t the only case for the court, prosecutor and defense lawyer. But it is the only case for the mother of the alleged victim and her supporters in the gallery, so their sense of unfairness at their delay in getting “justice” is understandable.
What’s more problematic is that they felt entitled to voice their frustrations to the judge during the court proceedings. But even this isn’t entirely their fault, as they’ve been led to believe they are a party to the proceedings, they are entitled to be heard on a level playing field with the prosecution and defense, and that the judge owes them the opportunity to have a say in the case.
That they may not quite have an appreciation of courtroom decorum, that the gallery doesn’t get to cheer or jeer, that the mother isn’t entitled to express herself at will, should come as no surprise. They’re not lawyers. They’re not trained in procedure. And they have no particular reason to care. They’re there for “justice,” and since they’re told that’s their right as “victims,” there is good reason to anticipate that the voices of victims and the public are going to get louder and more disruptive. And judges’ reactions need to take into account that the mother of the victim is going to have plenty to say.