McMartin Case Halted Pending Ruling on TV Testimony Use
Municipal Judge Aviva K. Bobb, who had said she would rule next week on whether the seven defendants in the McMartin Pre-School molestation case should stand trial, Friday was ordered by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge to halt all proceedings while he determines whether the lower court erred in refusing to allow children to testify over closed-circuit television.
Judge Paul Turner issued a temporary stay “pending further order of the court” at the request of prosecutors, who want to call five children to testify on television.
On Tuesday, Bobb held that while televised testimony, authorized by a new state law, is now constitutional, it cannot be applied to a case already in progress.
400 Volumes of Transcripts
Turner on Friday ordered the district attorney’s office to provide him with all records of the 10-month-long preliminary hearing--more than 400 volumes of transcripts--by Monday afternoon. And he told prosecutors and defense attorneys to submit their arguments by Thursday morning.
Turner told The Times he is “precluded by the canon of ethics” from saying if and when a hearing on the matter will be held, whether he or another judge will hear the arguments or whether the issue can be resolved before next Friday morning, when Bobb is scheduled to decide whether the defendants should stand trial.
Prosecutors had sought the stay to prevent Bobb from dismissing counts they expect to prove by the televised testimony. However, Turner’s broader order appears to prevent Bobb from taking further action, even on those counts already testified to by 13 alleged child victims.
“She (Bobb) can’t do anything,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard W. Gerry, appellate lawyer for the district attorney’s office.
Bobb’s decision not to allow televised testimony triggered a series of events that abruptly ended the lengthy preliminary hearing on Thursday. Earlier in the week, the prosecution, in a surprise move, announced it would rest its case. Prosecutors explained that it had five young witnesses who could testify only by television because they feared the defendants and that the remaining 23 witnesses had been withdrawn by their parents or eliminated for other reasons.
200 Counts Dismissed
The defense then rested too, and Bobb began dismissing counts on which there had been no testimony. During two court sessions in which spectators filled two heavily guarded courtrooms (the extra security due to crank calls), Bobb dismissed about 200 counts--almost two-thirds of the original charges--against all seven defendants. That left several facing only one or two counts.
Bobb recessed court Thursday to consider the remaining 90 counts already testified to, as well as 50 more counts prosecutors want her to add. She held off dismissing 40 counts involving the proposed televised testimony to give prosecutors a chance to appeal her ruling.
Those charged with conspiring to molest children left in their care at the Manhattan Beach nursery school are its founder, Virginia McMartin, 77; her daughter, Peggy McMartin Buckey, 58; Betty Raidor, 65; Mary Ann Jackson, 57; Babette Spitler, 37, and two of the founder’s grandchildren, Ray Buckey, 27, and Peggy Ann Buckey, 29. All but Ray Buckey and his mother are free on bail.