An administrative law judge has recommended that Peggy Ann Buckey, a former defendant in the McMartin Pre-School molestation case, be granted a teaching credential.
Judge Ronald M. Gruen sharply criticized testimony offered by the state to connect her with child molestation charges.
According to the finding released Thursday afternoon, Gruen said no cause exists for denying Buckey, 32, a credential because of her fitness to teach. The judge recommended that she be granted a credential to teach deaf and learning-disabled students.
The opinion will be reviewed by the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing, possibly today, in Sacramento. But Buckey’s attorney, John Wagner, said he is “optimistic” that the commission will go along with Gruen’s recommendation.
“It’s great,” Buckey said. “I’m overjoyed. It’s the first good news we’ve had in five years.”
For Buckey, Gruen’s opinion ended a lengthy battle to regain her credential, lost after she was indicted in March, 1984, on 14 counts of molestation involving six children. Six other teachers at the McMartin school in Manhattan Beach were also indicted.
Charges against Buckey and four others were dropped in January, 1986, after an 18-month preliminary hearing.
Afterward, she sought reinstatement to her job with the Anaheim Union High School District. But the district, which had suspended her after she was indicted, continued to question her “moral fitness” and denied her request, in part, because her credential supposedly had lapsed.
Buckey turned to state credentialing officials in Sacramento in November, 1986, but she was denied a credential. After filing suit, she won an administrative hearing before Gruen.
In many respects, the proceeding in Los Angeles, which wound up before Gruen in November, was a mini-version of the $10-million, 5-year-old McMartin molestation case in which Peggy Ann Buckey’s brother, Raymond Buckey, 30, and mother, Peggy McMartin Buckey, 61, face 65 counts of molestation and conspiracy.
Although such quasi-judicial proceedings usually take days, Buckey’s hearing lasted nearly three months, during which Gruen heard 39 witnesses testify about reports of child molestation at the now-closed McMartin school.
The state presented a “statement of issues” accusing Peggy Ann Buckey of touching the private parts of four former McMartin pupils, now in their early teens, who were questioned behind closed doors. She was also accused of taking pictures of naked children and killing birds, rabbits, turtles and a horse to embellish warnings not to tell their parents.
Wagner charged in final arguments that the four youthful witnesses had been “trained” in their responses by Children’s Institute International, a Los Angeles child-abuse treatment center that interviewed 400 McMartin students in late 1983 and early 1984 about alleged molestation incidents from 1978 through 1983.
The defense lawyer challenged the “bizarre” aspects of their testimony, including reports of satanic rites at a nearby church, nude games played in the open, secret rooms and tunnels under the school, visits to a mortuary and a cemetery where bodies were dug up and an airplane ride to farms where animals were killed.
Deputy Atty. Gen. Stephanie Wald, who represented the credentialing committee, argued in reply that the youthful witnesses were consistent in their accounts of molestations, including descriptions of being undressed and asked to pose, of being tied up in the same manner and of threats that accompanied the killing of animals.
In reaching his opinion, Gruen said he found that the state had failed to offer enough evidence to raise the presumption of fact. He was particularly critical of taped interviews of the child witnesses, finding that they demonstrated “a pervasive use of leading and suggestive questions.”
“Such techniques on the part of the interviewers quite likely affected the ability of the children to render a complete, accurate and truthful account of events which took place at the McMartin School,” Gruen wrote.
“Other forms of improper questioning were used and included the use of multiple-choice questions, which impliedly assumed that the children had a memory of one fact or another, when it was not shown in the first instance that the children had a memory of any of the facts at all. The interviews were conducted with an attitude that it was evident to the interviewer that wrongdoing had taken place at the McMartin School.”
Gruen found that the manner in which the interviewing agency had questioned the children was “an inadequate substitute for the vigorous and careful process of examination for the ascertainment of truth or falsity.”
The judge said there was “no credible evidence” in the hearing record to corroborate testimony by the child witnesses that they had been taken to a church, where satanic rites were supposedly conducted.
“To the contrary,” he said, “evidence provided by the minister of the church in question demonstrated that no such practices or occurrences took place at the church at any time.”
He noted that children had described secret tunnels, secret rooms and trap doors at the McMartin school, but that in fact an investigation by the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office had failed to find them. He found that the testimony of the state’s child witnesses “lacked internal consistency and credibility.”
After reading Gruen’s recommendation Thursday evening, Peggy Ann Buckey expressed confidence that the jurors hearing charges against her mother and brother will agree with Gruen’s appraisal of evidence in the McMartin case.