Vladek Filler will get a new trial. In this opinion, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court affirms the ruling of the trial court setting aside his conviction of sexual abuse and ordering that he be retried (Leagle, 9/9/10). Important as well is the fact that the court ruled that the trial court erred in excluding evidence that Filler’s wife used the charges she levelled against him as a tactic in their child custody matter.
If you haven’t read about Filler’s case, it’s a doozy. Here’s a link to his website. He and his wife Ligia had been married for 16 years and had two children, when Filler filed for divorce. The ensuing custody battle set off a series of claims by Ligia that Filler had sexually abused her. This was the man Ligia had called “the most loving and caring man and father she had ever seen.”
Despite the fact that there was no evidence to corroborate her claims, despite the fact that she refused a medical examination and despite the fact that Ligia was considered to be “mentally unstable” by the local police, Filler was found guilty by the jury of three counts of sexual abuse.
That was largely because the judge had refused to admit evidence to prove that Ligia’s claims had come in the course of a bitter custody fight. Into the bargain, the court did allow the prosecutor to ask the jury during final argument, “where is one piece of evidence about that (i.e. the custody fight)?”
Even the trial court recognized that it had erred in allowing prosecutor Mary Kellett to make that argument, so it ruled that Filler was entitled to a new trial. The state appealed that order, but the appellate court agreed with Filler and the trial court that he should get another chance to prove his innocence. But it went further than the trial court saying that, in the new trial, Filler can bring in all of the evidence about the custody matter and the fact that none of the allegations had been made until custody became an issue.
That’s obviously important to Vladek Filler, but, since it’s a ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court, it’s also important to countless other men in Maine. No more will their criminal trials on allegations of domestic abuse be marred by their inability to adduce evidence that the charges arose in the course of child custody cases.
Men’s and fathers’ rights advocates in Maine aren’t exactly the biggest fans of Mary Kellett. They describe her as a prosecutor who will believe any woman who claims sexual or physical abuse against her partner, irrespective of the evidence. They say she uses her office to separate fathers accused of those offenses from their children.
It’s just a guess on my part, but from my far remove, I’d say that Maine’s judiciary might be starting to agree. The Filler case has always struck me as the type of travesty of justice that, under other circumstances would be easily swept under the rug. The trial court or the appellate court or both could have used the old “harmless error” dodge, but neither did. That’s where a court says in effect that a ruling it made might have been wrong, but it couldn’t have affected the outcome of the case, so it was “harmless error.”
Harmless error is used all the time to avoid reversals in criminal cases and keep people in prison. So the fact that neither court took refuge behind that concept says a lot to me. It says they think Vladek Filler is innocent. It may also say they think Mary Kellett is guilty.