Gregory Hartnell goes on trial for telling the truth
Posted on March 7, 2014 by faithvictoria
So Gregory Hartnell, local Catholic curmudgeon, finally goes on trial on Monday for telling the truth about Father “Fondling” Phil Jacobs’ clergy abuse trial.
Actually, Gregory reported on the preliminary hearing, which is a crime in this country if the judge says it is, and it’s not a crime if the judge doesn’t.
More and more judges grant what’s called a publication ban on preliminary hearings, and, in any sex abuse trial involving minors, there is an automatic ban on the names of the alleged victims, which is to say, the accusors.
Full disclosure, I violated the second ban in the Jacobs trial, so claimed a policeman with the prosecutorial team, by blogging that two of the accusors shared a certain characteristic X, without naming either.
Sorry, the ban is still in place.
If I told you X, I would have to kill you, or you might be able to identify them, especially if you knew who was in the altar boy age group at the parochial school Jacobs was associated with.
And then the world would cave in… or not.
So I amended my blog, removed X and was questioned by police building the case against Hartnell, but not (to date) subpoenaed to testify against him.
Maybe Gregory was also asked to remove his reportage on the prelim, and maybe he refused, being an obstinate sort.
I’d like to testify for him. Here’s what I’d say.
First, the courts in Victoria demonstrate a systemic disregard for the public, and the public’s rights and interests in seeing justice done.
I see the growing trend to grant publication bans at prelims as an example.
But so is the ban on publishing the minor’s names in sexual cases, which seems defensible at first glance.
Before I get to that, though, there’s this: the publication ban was announced almost casually and barely audibly by the judge at the beginning of each day of trial, until I complained about it on my blog, and then, perhaps coincidentally, he thereafter reannounced it through the day (people were coming in and out who could not have heard the first announcement) and put a notice on the door every day too.
Though small, the courtroom was an acoustic disaster.
Amazingly, a sound system linked the witness to the court reporter — but to nobody else.
The lawyers, witnesses and judge talked to each other, and if we in the public gallery heard them, it is by chance not intent.
The courtroom’s design and the trial’s conduct betray, therefore, a lack of respect for the public and an ignorance of our role.
Here’s the thing: the public is in the court room to ensure justice is done.
Witnesses have been known to lie.
Officers of the court have been known to collude in the miscarriage of justice.
The public is there to prevent that, not to satisfy an illicit appetite for crime.
If the alleged victims in the Jacobs case (he was convicted on their testimony, which I believe) had been lying, this might well have been exposed by the public via journalistic reports, but only if the accusors’ identities were known.
Suppose one of the accusors were somewhere else on the day of the alleged assault.
Or suppose one of the accusors had made similar allegations against someone else, which had then been disproved.
How would these very relevant facts become known to the court without publication of the accusors’ names?
The absurdity of the publication ban is apparent in that any member of the public can attend the trial: he can tell people; he just can’t publish the names in the electronic or print media.
Ditto anything from the prelim. This is nonsense.
The very premise for the ban is at least questionable.
It is to protect the victims from the stigma of sexual victimization.
Think about that for more than a second.
What contributes more to stigmatization than the idea the names of victims must be kept secret?
Are they supposed to be ashamed of being victims?
Yes, says the publication ban.
The publication ban protects the guilty: most sexual abuse of minors is perpetrated by family members: the perps and other family members who did not protect the victims have their identities concealed by the publication ban.
But the more that victims reveal themselves, the less stigma, and the more deterrence against further depredation.
I’m with Greg on this one.
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Steve Weatherbe is a journalist with 30 years experience, specializing in religion and public issues, a conservative Catholic Christian, a supporter of Evangelicals and Catholics Together, living in Victoria, British Columbia. Canada
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