Nearly 12 years after his then-wife accused him of rape and assault, a former Gouldsboro resident has been awarded nearly $1.77 million in damages against a friend of his ex-wife who testified against him at two trials.
Vladek Filler eventually was exonerated of the allegations after being found innocent of all but one of the charges at two trials. A judge later vacated the simple assault conviction that resulted from his second trial later without objection by current Hancock County District Attorney Matthew Foster.
Filler, who now lives in suburban Atlanta, has maintained throughout the saga that his ex-wife falsely accused him of raping and assaulting her as part of a child custody case that he later won. Filler was granted full custody of their two sons in their 2011 divorce.
In 2015, Filler filed suit against more than a dozen people, most of them former public officials, alleging he was deprived of his rights and due process because of the way his case was handled. That civil lawsuit was settled last year for $375,000 with all but one of the defendants.
On Tuesday, Judge John Woodcock issued an order and judgment in federal court in Bangor awarding Filler $1.7 million in damages against Linda Gleason, the last remaining defendant in the civil lawsuit.
Gleason is a registered nurse who, according to federal court documents, encouraged Filler’s ex-wife to cry during a police interview about the alleged assault to make it “seem real.” Woodcock wrote in his order that Gleason was “extremely culpable” in the way Filler’s case was mishandled in that she helped initiate the accusations of wrongdoing, and supported and encouraged the false allegations throughout the course of two trials.
“She has not come clean even to this day,” the judge wrote. “Ms. Gleason did not merely set a ball in motion and watch it roll. She continued to push it, testifying falsely as a witness, adding to her credibility by calling on her professionalism as a nurse. She must have known that he had been wrongfully convicted on two occasions and yet, she never told the truth.”
Contact information for Gleason, who now lives in Missouri, was unavailable Friday. According to federal court documents, Gleason is representing herself in the civil suit.
Woodcock compared Filler’s “horrendous” experience with the criminal justice system in Maine to Franz Kafka’s book “The Trial,” in which a man is arrested and prosecuted for reasons never made clear. The criminal justice system depends on honesty and objectivity, Woodcock said, but in Filler’s case the system failed.
“Mr. Filler endured a living nightmare,” Woodcock wrote. “Falsely accused by his then-wife and her friend of committing heinous crimes, he was wrongfully charged, tried and convicted of those charges, and it took him eight years to be fully exonerated. Mr. Filler’s experience is no one’s idea of justice in this state or country.”
Woodcock wrote that “a number” of people involved in handling Filler’s criminal case “deliberately chose to do the wrong thing,” but that if Gleason had been truthful “the state of Maine’s case would have fallen of its own weight.”
As part of his calculations, Woodcock determined that Filler is entitled to more than $2 million in damages, but the judge subtracted the $375,000 Filler already has been awarded through his earlier settlement from the amount he ordered Gleason to pay.
Filler said that Woodcock’s decision is “a profound watershed moment for me and my family,” though he is not sure if he ever will find complete closure from the experience.
“The surreal nightmare my family and I were put through has been devastating,” Filler said. “From day one, and throughout both criminal trials, the truth was available to the officials involved, but they ignored and suppressed the truth, and deliberately kept it from the eyes and ears of the jury.”
He said he feels “some sense of vindication,” and is grateful to his attorneys and to Woodcock for helping bring the truth to light.
“I am disappointed, however, that state and county officials have not held their employees accountable for all the egregious and inexcusable civil rights violations that were committed in my case,” he said.
The civil lawsuit was not the only formal complaint Filler filed over the now-discredited criminal case against him. He also filed a complaint against former prosecutor Mary Kellett with the Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar, which resulted in Kellett becoming the first Maine prosecutor in recent memory to be publicly sanctioned by the state over prosecutorial misconduct.
Kellett, who now works in private practice as a defense attorney, prosecuted Filler at his first trial in 2009. Kellett was among other people named as defendants in the civil lawsuit and who reached a settlement with him last year.
Other defendants included:
— Michael Povich and Carletta Bassano, former district attorneys for Hancock and Washington counties.
— Former Hancock County Sheriff and current Hancock County Commissioner William Clark.
— Paul Cavanaugh, an assistant district attorney who prosecuted Filler’s second trial and who now works as a prosecutor in Kennebec County.
— Several former or current law enforcement officers who were involved in the criminal investigation.
— The governmental entities of Hancock County, Washington County, the town of Gouldsboro and the city of Ellsworth, each of which had officers from their law enforcement divisions involved in the investigation against Filler.
Insurance companies for the governmental entities and their former and current employees covered the cost of the $375,000 settlement with Filler.
If you or someone you know needs resources or support related to sexual violence, contact the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault’s 24/7 hotline at 800-871-7741.