Enough with the intimidation tactics
Public defenders Tina Fang and Stephen McCrohan have done a formidable job in their defense of Emanuel Gonzalez-Loujun, ever since he was arrested for the alleged rape and kidnapping of an Aspen woman in January 2009.
But we believe their recent motions to have three people banned from the courtroom when he stands trial next month is steeped in overzealousness and, if successful, could set a terrible precedent for public access as we know it.
Fang and McCrohan have pulled out all the stops in their defense of Gonzalez-Loujun, and they’ve been successful on many fronts, from having evidence suppressed to exposing a shoddy investigation by the Aspen Police Department.
Their defense work was good enough in the April trial, held in Pitkin County District Court, to convince jurors to vote 9-3 to acquit Gonzalez-Loujun of the sexual assault and kidnapping charges (the jury did convict him of possession of cocaine, possession of cocaine with the intent to distribute, and resisting arrest).
Because of last month’s hung jury, Gonzalez-Loujun will be retried in June on the kidnapping and sexual assault charges, which has led McCrohan and Fang to file a flurry of motions.
By giving Gonzalez-Loujun the best representation possible, the defense team is doing the job they are supposed to do. In fact, it’s not a stretch to say that Gonzalez-Loujun is getting a better defense than if he had actually hired a free-market attorney.
But the defense team’s motions to place courtroom bans on legal advocate Jill Gruenberg, journalist Carolyn Sackariason and the alleged victim smacks of theatrics and sanctimony.
The motions claim that the courtroom behavior of Gruenberg and Sackariason, who was an Aspen Times reporter at the time, in last month’s trial included looking at jurors, rolling eyes and other emotional exhibits. One motion also claims Sackariason spoke to jurors about the case outside of the trial (Sackariason contends she did not realize the two women were jurors until later in the conversation).
Another motion argues that Gruenberg, who works for Response Help For Battered Women, has tried to taint next month’s jury panel by writing letters to the local newspapers about sexual assault awareness, as well as speaking about the topic at public meetings.
What the motion fails to mention is that Gruenberg is protected by the First Amendment, and she is entitled to express her views about sexual assault.
If the claims are correct that Sackariason, now the editor of the Aspen Daily News, and Gruenberg made emotional displays during the trial, then perhaps, at the most, they should have been admonished by a judge at the time of their infractions.
But to ban the two from the courtroom – some two months after their alleged displays – would have a chilling effect on citizens’ constitutional rights.
The same goes for the alleged victim. She should be allowed, after she testifies, to attend the trial if she so pleases. It is her right, whether the defense likes it or not.
We encourage these three women to fight for their right to attend next month’s trial, and not succumb to intimidation tactics launched by the defense.