A Defense Attorney's Story

Zachary Bravos*

We will never know what really happened or how it really started.  All we know is that a young, first-grade teacher said that a playground aide told her that a first- grade boy said that a first-grade girl named Nancy told him that another first-grade boy named Raymond touched her.  We do know that Raymond, Nancy, the aide, and the teacher went into an empty classroom, and that the teacher turned to Raymond and asked him what happened, and he denied ever touching this little girl.  We know that the teacher believed him and was sure in her own mind that he was telling the truth and that she then turned to Nancy and asked her what happened.  And we know that Nancy wouldn't say a word.  We know that the teacher then asked the little child whether or not anybody had ever touched her anywhere on her body on her arms, on her shoulders, anywhere; and finally, we know that Nancy said "Daddy."

We will never really know the true content of that interview or of all the other interviews that Nancy had in which she continued to insist that Raymond touched her.  We will never know what she really meant by her shrugs, nods, "yes" or "no" responses when asked about her Daddy, but we do know that the child protective workers determined on the very first day that young Nancy had been sexually abused by her father.

Today, after independent psychological testing, we know that Nancy is educable mentally handicapped with an I.Q. of 67, that she is imitative, anxious to please and a poor historian of the past.  She is a child with severe language difficulties.  She is extremely echoic, meaning that she tends to repeat the last three words or whole idea that she hears.  She is the type of child who looks to the world around her for clues as to how she is supposed to respond, and then responds in conformity with those expectations.  She does this because she fundamentally does not understand what is being asked or expected of her.  She does not comprehend the difference between fact and fiction.

Nancy has a younger sister whom everyone calls Gigi and an older brother named Mike.  When it became apparent that abuse accusations would be brought, the parents brought the children to Dad's folks so that they could stay with grandparents.  Child protection viewed this as an attempt to remove the children from their control and immediately sought and were granted emergency orders to take the children into immediate custody.

The next morning we appeared in court with the grandparents, and the children were taken from their mother and father from the father because it was felt the proof of abuse was strong; from the mother because she did not believe her husband had abused their child.  The grandparents, stable law-abiding citizens who have resided in the same home for thirty-five years, were ruled unfit to have the children because they did not believe that their son had abused their granddaughter.  It is hard to find a foster home to take three children, so they ended up being split apart.  Nancy was placed in a home alone.  They did get to see their folks once a week at a local McDonalds for about an hour under the watchful eye of the child protection worker.  The girls were placed in therapy in order to help them get over their father's abuse.  There they learned all about adult sexual perversion.  The family was experiencing the full weight of our governmental authority.

Why does an attorney take a case like this?  Why would a lawyer want to defend someone accused of the most perverse and horrendous acts mankind is capable of?  Why would a lawyer ever want to walk into a courtroom where everyone thinks he is some kind of a sleezebag because he has the unutterable gall to stand up and defend a child molester?  How could an attorney take a position which would harm children and place them back in the clutches of an uncaring mother and an abusive father?  For all of you who have defended these kinds of cases I need not describe in detail the months of pushing and urging; the seeking for any little bit of fairness, any sign or recognition of the possibility that an error could have been made.  The parents want a psychological evaluation?  "NO!  We will not subject these children to further trauma."  The parents would like a physical examination?  "NO!  There is no need to reabuse these children."

Primarily, the role of the attorney in these cases is to educate the court, social services, child protection, and all those bent on helping the children.  He pushes and pushes.  He aggravates, infuriates, and finally, hopefully, educates.  Grudgingly, the justice systems allows that which every litigant is entitled to; a fair hearing.  However, there is always the powerful urging to take the first step towards salvation: admit abuse, cleanse your soul of this dreadful secret, take the first steps on the right road to rehabilitation.  Do these things and we will reunite your family oppose us, and you will never see your children again.

Skip ahead six months.  The order dismissing the case has just been signed.  The family is destitute, your retainer has been used up, you have continued on with the case and incurred expenses without even meeting your overhead costs.  The kids were returned to Mom about a month ago, but since then, for fear of contaminating the evaluation process, Dad has had no contact with the children.  No contact means no contact whatsoever, either directly or indirectly, in person, by telephone, or by mail.  The court has told you that you have done a wonderful job and are a credit to your profession.  There is not a word of apology or solace for the parents.

This happened to me recently.  The order was signed around 3:30 in the afternoon, just a little bit before school was getting out.  The father and I got into my car and drove over just as the children had been let out.  They were milling about the school yard as children do, and I spotted Nancy and Gigi right away.  They were over by the swings, and I could look into Nancy's eyes when she saw the car pull to a stop.  I could tell that she noticed something vaguely familiar and her eyes were drawn to the passenger side.  When Daddy opened the door and started to step out I saw a look come into her eyes that I remember from when I was a child.  It's that look when you see something that you have hoped for but never really expected.  There's a split second of unbelief where time seems to stand still, a long moment when you question the accuracy of your senses.  I saw Gigi look up at the same time.  The next thing I knew the girls were running towards the gate, both shouting, "My Daddy's here, my Daddy's here!" over and over and over again.  When they finally reached him I left them alone, and they walked around the school yard, one girl dangling from each arm, for a good half-hour.

When I was a boy and someone asked me how much I loved my Daddy, I could spread my arms out as far as they would go and it still wouldn't be enough.  My Daddy's gone now.  He grew old and died.  When I grow old, I will remember the look in Nancy's eyes and remember that day as a day in which I did something good.

These moments are the great joy of the defense attorney.

* Zachary Bravos is an Attorney at Law and can be contacted at Bravos and Trapp, LTD., 1275 East Butterfield Road, Suite 110, Wheaton, IL 60187.  [Back]

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