Why are the prosecutor and the defense attorney in cahoots to keep a journalist from observing the Dr. William Ayres child molestation trial in Redwood City? Yup, you read correctly. A journalist who is simply reporting on the trial for the San Diego Reader and who is writing a book has been excluded from the proceedings under the auspices of a subpoena to appear in court as a "witness" that was handed to her by Doron Weinberg, the defense attorney in the case. But, is Balfour really a witness? Or is the exclusion of Balfour merely a ploy to keep the public from knowing about and hearing about the trial? If you ask Balfour she will tell you what she told me, "I am being punished by Weinberg and have been betrayed by the District Attorney's Office."
This is an issue I became aware of about two weeks ago, and I was hoping that the prosecutor, the defense and the court would do the right thing before I opened my big mouth -- but apparently it wasn't going to happen.
So, here's the backstory: In the case of People v. Ayres, Dr. William Hamilton Ayres, now 77, is accused of sexually assaulting dozens of preadolescent male patients from as far back as the 1970's. Some of you may wonder how a 77-year-old can be facing charges from so many years ago. Well, there's a reason why we can put a longtime predator behind bars:
STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS, CALIFORNIA
The reason this case can be prosecuted is the section of the penal code that allows for a lengthy period of time to file child sexual assault charges. Each state has its own prescribed length of time during which a case can be brought. In California, you can file felony child sexual assault charges for up to ten years after the event, and an extension can be granted if certain legal hurdles are overcome.
This extension has been an accepted part of case law because it is well known that children can delay disclosing sexual abuse for many years. Through the extension of the statute of limitations and the corroboration of various victims, Dr. Ayres is now facing 10 counts of felony molestation.
VICTORIA BALFOUR, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST
Victoria Balfour, an investigative journalist and former reporter for People magazine, brought attention to the case of Dr. Ayers to insure that justice was done. Thanks to Balfour's investigative leads as a journalist, she was able to turn her contacts over to the District Attorney's Office, who then filed the case.
So here we find the case filed -- with the statute of limitations on the prosecutor's side -- thanks to the work of a committed journalist to insure justice. Ayres is now on trial, and one would think that Victoria Balfour would be hailed for her good work. But what thanks does the noble Balfour get? A big fat "exclusion order."
Yes, you read correctly. The very journalist who helped bring the case to justice and now wishes to simply report on the case to the public is being excluded under the auspices of a BS subpoena handed to her by the defense attorney.
An exclusion order in a criminal case is handed down if a person is a potential witness. It's meant to prevent that witness from basing his or her testimony on that of others, and to make sure the integrity of one witness's examination is not tainted by the statements or perceptions of another witness.
Yes, attorneys can legally request that witnesses can be excluded based on the fact that they are "potential witnesses." But even a loose use of "potential witness" still requires some basis for calling that witness. And what testimony would that be, Mr. Weinberg? Ms. Balfour isn't a witness -- she's a journalist covering the story like so many others!
Mr. Weinberg, you haven't interviewed, spoken to, or even asked Balfour a question. There is nothing that she can say that can possibly help you or your client. So why are you doing keeping her from doing her job?
The legalese doesn't fool us. Could it be that you don't want the public to see another one of your clients get convicted -- especially so soon after your client, Phil Spector, was convicted of 2nd degree murder nearly a month ago.
Turning to the prosecution now -- Melissa McKowan, where are you? Why aren't you standing up for the reporter who has been there for you? Where is your request for an offer of proof in terms of why Balfour is being called? What are you afraid of? Why aren't you even putting up a fight? And perhaps more important, what axe do you have to grind with Ms. Balfour? Is there a similar issue with any of the other "potential witnesses" watching the trial? Why isn't the victim's mother not a potential witness?
We all know that the prosecutor has a say -- a powerful say. So use that voice of yours and put the screws to the defense and the court. Go ahead, Ms. McKowan, and give those answers that people are waiting to hear!
From this trial will arise messages that the public needs to hear. And if not for journalists who take the time to write articles and books, the stories will remain locked within the four walls of a courtroom. The public needs to know that justice delayed is still justice. The public needs to know that boys were victimized. The public needs to understand how people in positions of trust manipulate their authority to gain access to kids.
Child sexual assault is already a crime that occurs behind closed doors. Let's end that legacy by tearing down those doors and giving "the people" the information that they need. By keeping Victoria Balfour out of court, the system is victimizing the public and denying us the access to the information that we so desperately need.
Follow Robin Sax on Twitter: www.twitter.com/robinsax