HARTFORD, CONNECTICUT — Hartford Superior Court Judge Julia D. Dewey granted the request of an accused rapist to appoint a GAL to assess whether it is in the best interests of the now 8-year-old victim to testify against him.
Judge Dewey’s decision this week to appoint a GAL with conflicts of interest could silence the victim at the expense of the taxpayers and public safety.
State Rep. Ed Vargas played a key role in convincing his colleagues to unanimously pass reforms to the State’s unregulated GAL industry while sitting on the Judicial Committee’s family court reform task force.
“If what you are describing to me is accurate, it sure seems like Judge Dewey selected an inappropriate GAL who should not have accepted the appointment” said State Representative Ed Vargas (D-Hartford). “Even the appearance of a conflict of interest should be enough for a judge or GAL to recuse themselves from participating in a case, and the Glastonbury case seems to have certainly exceeded that description.”
Vargas, who currently sits on the Committee on Children, also wondered why he had not heard much in the local media about such a disturbing and shocking case that has pitted DCF against the State prosecutors willing to let the accused child sex predators off the hook without proper scrutiny.
As reported by Communities Digital News last week, the case in question centers on George Harasz, 48, and Douglas Wirth, 43, a married couple from Glastonbury who WFSB reported now stand accused of abusing some of their nine adopted sons. Their alleged crimes include locking the boys in cages, rape, as well as other shocking crimes.
In 2011, Harasz was charged with sexual assault in the first degree, two counts of injury to a minor, aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault in the third degree and cruelty to persons. Wirth was also charged with sexual assault in the third degree and injury to a minor.
In 2012, the superior court legally terminated Harasz and Wirth’s parental rights and made DCF the legal guardian of the victims, now ages 8 and 17. During a hearing on the criminal cases last year, one of the victims explained that the defendants began raping him at the age of 6.
“They took turns raping me over and over,” said the boy. “Anyone who would do this to a child is a sick, demented person.”
Yet throughout the criminal proceedings, DCF has disagreed with State prosecutors and defense attorneys Michael Dwyer and Hubie Santos, who have repeatedly launched public attacks against the alleged crime victims, citing a lack of forensic evidence in the case, calling the boys liars, and accusing the boys of being too unstable and feeble to speak on their own behalves.
In May 2014, Wirth’s attorney Michael Dwyer filed a motion to appoint a GAL to evaluate whether or not it is in the 8-year-old victim’s best interests to testify against his client at trial. At a hearing last June on the matter, Attorney Santos expressed his disdain to for DCF Commissioner Joette Katz and her efforts to protect the children.
“The reason we’re here is she’s intent on convicting each of our respective clients” said Santos, who also accused Katz of having a conflict of interest in the case.
Assistant Attorney General John Tucker responded by pointing out that Dwyer should have filed the motion in the first place because his client has no parental rights or the legal standing required to make requests on the victim’s behalf. “The commissioner has acted appropriately, consulted professionals and will continue to do so,” Tucker said. He added that it is good that Katz is “involved and taking an interest in this case.”
On July 9th, Judge Dewey issued a decision that granted Dwyer’s motion, citing the Court’s perception that DCF has an unspecified conflict of interest in the case, but also questioning “the propriety of the DCF’s decision to have the minor child testify.” Dewey also ordered all of the attorneys involved with the case, including the defendant’s representatives Dwyer and Santos, to submit a list of three potential candidates to serve as a GAL for the alleged rape victim.
JUDGE DEWEY SELECT GAL TIED TO DEFENSE ATTORNEY SANTOS
The GAL ultimately selected by Dewey to assess the Glastonbury boy’s competence is attorney Amy J Horowitz, a solo practitioner based out of Hartford, who according to DCF officials, was selected from the list submitted by the State’s Attorney’s office. Horowitz also serves as a special master in the family court and a commissioner in the small claims division. In addition, Horowitz also serves on the board of directors for an organization called Community Partners in Action (formerly the Connecticut Prison Association).
Tax records show fellow CPA board members recently included her co-workers at the Judicial Branch, defense attorney Santos’ law partner Hope Seeley, as well as Rev. Jeffrey Grant, a recovering addict and reformed convicted thief who did a stretch in federal prison for white collar crimes.
CPA describes itself as a public charity “founded in 1875 as the Friends of Prisoners Society to work in the brand new field of criminal rehabilitation.” But Horowitz’s job in this case is not supposed to be to reform and protect the defendants, it to evaluate whether their alleged rape victim, now age 8, will suffer more harm be more from taking the stand than ramifications to public safety which could result if the defendant’s efforts to legally muzzle the boy are successful.
According to David Zagaja, the Assistant State’s Attorney formerly assigned to the matters, the prosecution’s cases against Harasz and Wirth rests entirely on the weight of the victim’s testimony. Zagaja resigned off the case last spring after a plea bargain which would have allowed the defendants to plead no contest to a single charge of risk of injury to a minor, serve no jail time, and have the remaining dismiss charges against them dismissed blew up in the prosecutor’s face.
Following Zaraga’s resignation, Santos accused Katz of having a conflict of interest in the case. According to the Courant, there is a claim for damages filed on behalf of the victims currently pending with the state claims commissioner.
“We have no forensic evidence in this case,” Zaraga told the Hartford Courant, explaining that he personally did not think the State could prevail at trial. “We have some corroboration of events by other children,” as well as “reports from some children that contradict some allegations, and others that flat out claim some of the conduct never happened.”
Former prosecutor and CNN legal analyst Wendy Murphy says policy, not lack of evidence is often the reason cases against child predators often do not go forward, “Contrary to popular myths peddled by perpetrators, claims of crimes committed against children, especially sexual abuse crimes, are not difficult to prove because the law in every state says that the word of a child is sufficient evidence to convict even under the strictest legal standards.”
Although Murphy refused to comment on the Glastonbury rape cases specifically, she says that in general, “Unlike adults, kids make excellent witnesses because they not skillful liars. We need to stop using the innate weaknesses of children as excuses to disbelieve them, and start using FAIR tools to assess their credibility – especially when they report crimes of violence.”
If the alleged rapists in the Glastonbury case have their way, they will escape conviction and remain free to mingle the in the victim’s community without consequences after the case finally goes to trial on September 3, 2014.
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