BANGOR, Maine — After a judge on Thursday denied several legal motions during a pretrial hearing, the trial of a Georgia man accused of raping his wife is expected to go forward this month in Ellsworth.
Vladek Filler, 41, formerly of Gouldsboro, was found guilty in 2009 of raping his wife but, after his then-attorney argued that a prosecutor made an inappropriate comment during her closing argument, Filler requested a re-trial. The trial judge, Justice Kevin Cuddy, granted the request — a decision that later was upheld by the state supreme court.
Jury selection in the new trial is expected to be held Monday, May 16, in Hancock County Superior Court. Filler is facing two counts of assault and one count of gross sexual assault.
On Monday, Filler’s new defense attorney, Stephen C. Smith, on Thursday asked the new trial judge, Robert Murray, to dismiss the gross sexual assault charge and one assault charge against Filler. Smith argued that there is not enough evidence to support the assault charge, and said that the judge who presided over Filler’s divorce proceedings determine that the alleged sexual assault did not occur. The divorce resulted in Filler gaining custody of his two sons.
Paul Cavanaugh, the new prosecutor in the case, told Murray that the divorce judge’s opinion has no bearing on the state’s criminal prosecution of Filler. The divorce was not an adjudication of the criminal allegations against Filler, he said.
Murray denied both of Smith’s motions to dismiss charges against Filler.
Smith also had filed a motion seeking a change of venue in the case. The attorney cited several media articles about Filler’s case and has said that they contain comments by Assistant Hancock County District Attorney Mary Kellett, the prosecutor for Filler’s first trial, that are “extensive and persuasive” and that have been “designed to engender ill will” toward his client.
Smith argued that the case should be moved out of the print coverage area of the Bangor Daily News because of the amount of attention the case has received in the BDN. He suggested that Portland would be the best location because of its distance from the Bangor media market.
Cavanaugh countered Smith’s claims by saying that much of the media attention surrounding Filler’s case has been generated by Filler and by groups that have taken up his cause — including one that held a press conference Thursday morning outside the Bangor courthouse that included Filler standing in front of news organization video cameras. Several of those groups have highlighted Filler’s case on their websites, saying he has been unfairly prosecuted and criticizing Kellett’s prosecution of the case.
Kellett has declined to comment on the Filler case or on the accusations against her.
“It is not genuine [for Filler] to complain about the [extent of media] coverage,” Cavanaugh told the judge Thursday.
Murray denied Smith’s request for a change of venue. He said that, despite the media coverage, it has not been demonstrated that the media attention has been prejudicial against Filler.
Murray also considered other arguments raised by Smith, such as whether certain testimony or potential items of evidence such as emails or photographs might be admitted during the trial. Murray said he would have to decide during the trial whether to allow such testimony or evidence to be submitted, depending on how the case is presented to the jury.
Before Thursday’s hearing, relatives of Filler, representatives of the group Stop Abusive and Violent Environments, and another former rape defendant held a press conference outside the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor. They said that too many questionable cases alleging sexual assaults in Hancock County are being brought against men who end up being acquitted.
SAVE President Edward Bartlett said Thursday that funding for criminal prosecutions in Maine should be reduced to help lower the number of what he said are frivolous prosecutions brought against innocent men. Bartlett said that on Wednesday, his group delivered to Gov. Paul LePage’s office in Augusta a petition with more than 1,000 signatures on it. The petition requests that Kellett be disbarred and that all charges against Filler be dropped, he said.
Mike Webber, 38, of Penobscot said he was tried twice in Hancock County in recent years, once on 14 sexual assault or contact charges and a second time on charges of assault and unlawful sexual touching. Both trials were the result of a custody battle he was having with his ex-wife, he said, and both times he was acquitted.
Webber said the accusations against him were fabricated and he never should have been prosecuted. He said the experience has damaged his personal life and his auto repair business.
“I lost four years of my life,” Webber said. “Somebody tried to use me as an example, for what I don’t know. I’m still trying to put things back together.”