BANGOR, Maine — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Wednesday began three days of hearing oral arguments in appeals by revisiting a case it ruled on last year involving a convicted child molester.
Justices also heard appeals in the manslaughter conviction of a Newport man who killed his father and assaulted his mother and a dispute over secret balloting in Waldoboro, among other cases.
Theodore S. Stanislaw, 53, of Blue Hill was convicted and sentenced to 28 years in prison in January 2010 for unlawful sexual contact, unlawful sexual touching and assault for groping girls who were between the ages of 10 and 14, according to documents filed in Hancock County Superior Court. Stanislaw was indicted in April and August 2009 on 18 counts of molesting or assaulting five girls who took private one-on-one music lessons at his home between 2002 and 2008.
Stanislaw is serving his sentence at the Maine State Prison in Warren.
That sentence was reversed last year by the justices for being too severe. They said that Superior Court Justice Kevin Cuddy misapplied a three-step analysis in determining how much time Stanislaw should spend in prison. In a unanimous decision, the court ruled that Cuddy did not articulate why he sentenced Stanislaw close to the maximum amount allowed by law for his crimes.
Stanislaw, through defense attorney Glen Porter of Bangor, had appealed the sentence on the grounds that Cuddy abused his discretion by imposing consecutive sentences that added up to 28 years and that the overall sentence was excessive.
On July 1, 2011, Cuddy sentenced Stanislaw for a second time. This time around, he ordered the former music teacher to serve 27 years in prison. With the new sentence, Stanislaw will serve four years of probation upon his release and have three years hanging over his head if he gets in further trouble with the law. He also will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
Porter has asked that the sentence be vacated again and assigned to a different Superior Court judge.
Questions from justices Wednesday focused on whether Cuddy abused his discretion by finding that Stanislaw’s case was unique compared to others and that Stanislaw posed a greater risk to the community than other defendants because of his ability to get adults in the community to trust him and because of his prior conviction in the early 1980s in New York state for similar behavior.
Mary Kellett, assistant district attorney for Hancock County, said the judge did not abuse his discretion, but Porter disagreed.
Justices also pointed out that since the first sentencing, the Legislature has increased penalties for sex crimes against children.
Porter disagreed again. He said that those changes in law were for more serious crimes that involved sexual intercourse with children, not the crimes of which Stanislaw was convicted.
Justice Jon Levy said that he had gone back 10 years checking to see if the state supreme court had ruled on a case in which the facts were the same or similar to the Stanislaw case with multiple victims and a prior conviction. He said that he could not find one. Kellett agreed that the court has not reviewed a similar case.
Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley said that it was possible that by imposing such a long sentence, Cuddy was “reflecting an attitude in society that sexual assault on children will not be tolerated.”
Bangor attorney Zachary Brandmeir argued Wednesday that Perley Goodrich Jr., convicted of manslaughter in the death of his father and of an assault on his mother in October 2009, should be granted a new trial because the judge did not halt his trial in March 2011 when Goodrich did not receive a prescribed dosage of medication from staff at the Penobscot County Jail before the trial.
Brandmeir, who was not Goodrich’s attorney during the trial, told the Law Court that Superior Court Justice William Anderson should have delayed the trial or held a hearing to determine Goodrich’s competency when his trial attorney, Jeffrey Silverstein of Bangor, reported his client as not being engaged in the proceedings.
Assistant Attorney General Lauren LaRochelle argued that Goodrich’s reaction could have been explained by the fact that his mother and victim, Sandra Goodrich, was testifying about him killing her husband. She said that Anderson’s decision to continue the trial was the correct one.
Justice Warren Silver question why Brandmeir had filed the appeal at all.
“You had an amazing result in this case with a manslaughter conviction instead of a murder conviction, but now you are asking for a new trial,” he said. “Aren’t you taking a risk?”
Brandmeir acknowledged that a new trial was a risk for his client.
Goodrich, who was indicted for murder, was sentenced in May 2011 to 15 years in prison, with all but eight years suspended, for manslaughter and aggravated assault. In a second phase of the trial, he was found criminally responsible for his actions rather than not guilty by reason of insanity. If the justices were to grant him a new trial, Goodrich would be tried for manslaughter, not murder, according to Silverstein.
Justices on Wednesday also considered whether Superior Court Justice Jeffrey Hjelm erred when he determined that a 2008 secret-ballot article passed by the residents of Waldoboro was not effective to establish municipal voting methods so that secret ballots instead of voice votes or the raising of hands had to be used at all town meetings.
Residents of Waldoboro sued town officiants in 2011 in Lincoln County Superior Court over voting at a special town meeting last summer in which secret balloting was not used. The special town meeting was called after eight articles did not pass in June 2011 when secret ballots were used.
Clifford Goodall, the Augusta attorney representing the residents who challenged the voting method at the second meeting in which the eight articles concerning budget items passed, argued that passage of the article about secret balloting created an ordinance that was binding.
Kristin Collins, the town’s attorney, said that town officials had and should continue to have the discretion to select the manner of voting at town meetings.
There is no timeline under which the justices must issue their decision.
The court will hear oral arguments Thursday and Friday in cases challenging: how a defendant asks for a jury trial in different counties; a prosecutor’s reference to the book “Sophie’s Choice” and Nazis in his closing argument; and the constitutionality of the state’s aggravated cruelty to animals statute.
BDN reporter Bill Trotter contributed to this report.