ROCKLAND, Maine — Theodore Berry, 24, was arrested and charged last month with domestic violence assault, but he’s not quietly waiting for his case to proceed through the criminal justice system.
Berry, who came within 35 votes of being elected to the Rockland City Council last November, has asked the court to seal any documents pertaining to his criminal case and order the removal from the Internet of a BDN article that reported the arrest. He also has asked that the Rockland police officer who gave the BDN reporter the information about the arrest be demoted by the city, receive a $2 per hour pay cut and receive a decreased security clearance for a year.
The former candidate was charged with assault after a woman reported to Rockland police May 10 that Berry had pushed her to the ground, which caused her to injure her ankle. He claimed in paperwork filed in court last week that the officer who released the information violated the law by disseminating prejudicial information that will make it difficult for him to find an impartial jury and that the information was an unwarranted invasion of his privacy.
He initially had been scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday afternoon at Rockland District Court, but Judge Patricia Worth rescheduled that hearing for June 15 because Berry, who was representing himself, told the judge he wasn’t prepared. His mother, Bethany Berry, and the alleged victim were present in the sparsely populated courtroom.
Worth told him she had read his motion to seal his case and would take it under consideration but that one of the most important protections Americans have over government misconduct or other improper behavior is the fact that most court proceedings are open to the public.
“That sunshine, that bright light, is the way to be sure” things happen correctly, Worth told Berry. “Understood, news of a criminal prosecution is difficult. It’s difficult for defendants and victims.”
But, she said, the fact that it is difficult is less important than keeping court proceedings open to the public.
After Berry’s arrest, he was released on $250 cash bail and prohibited from contacting the victim or going to her home, school or place of work. On Wednesday, the judge addressed another motion by Berry to have his bail amended.
“You said that the bail conditions in this case prohibit you from shopping in a particular store where you like to go,” Worth said.
At that point, Berry’s mother interrupted the proceedings.
“Say you’re innocent,” she told her son.
“I’m innocent, your honor,” Theodore Berry said.
Worth did not ignore the interruption.
“The person who just felt they had to tell the adult what to say can go,” Worth said, ordering Bethany Berry to leave the courtroom.
After the mother left, Knox County Assistant District Attorney Jeff Baroody told Worth he was concerned Berry might try to influence the alleged victim if the bail conditions were amended and allowed them to be in contact.
“There was a three-year plan to marry the victim written in a letter sent to the victim’s mother,” Baroody said.
Berry objected and indicated he had not had an opportunity to review the prosecution’s evidence against him. He also challenged the charge of domestic violence assault. He said that because he and the alleged victim neither lived together nor were in a committed relationship, it was the incorrect charge.
But Baroody said it was the correct charge, given the information available to police at the time of the reported assault.
“The officer asked the victim the very specific question of whether the victim had had a sexual relationship with the defendant,” Baroody said.
“I object to that under the Fourth Amendment, the right to privacy,” Berry interjected.
Worth overruled his objection, and Baroody continued.
“The answer was yes,” the prosecutor said.
Pertaining to the Berry’s request to have the BDN article removed from the Internet, she said that before it could be found that the newspaper had hindered the administration of justice, as the defendant claimed, “you would have to allege a news organization has violated a court order.”
There is no court order in place prohibiting the publication of such an article.
She did not directly address several other written requests Berry submitted to the court, including those pertaining to the Rockland police officer. Worth also did not specify when she would rule on Berry’s request to seal court documents.