Dear Editors and Copley Press,
I am writing this letter as a response and observation regarding your campaign to interfere with the administration of justice in Kane County, specifically in regards to your recent articles and editorials involving the Honorable Barry E. Puklin.
I am uniquely qualified to respond to the allegations and accusations made by your publication in recent weeks, as I was the trial attorney who represented Anthony Lofton throughout the proceedings initiated by the Office of the State's Attorney in late 1994. Those proceedings began with an investigation by the Child Advocacy Center, proceeded to an indictment by the grand jury, continued with multiple hearings on motions before four different judges, and culminated in a jury trial conducted before Judge Puklin in August of 1995. The proceedings concluded, of course, with an acquittal in December of 1995.
The last thing that a sitting judge wants is to be defended in print or anywhere else by a criminal defense attorney. We are low on the esteem totem pole, but the first to be called when a family member or loved one is arrested. I am not writing to defend Judge Puklin; his record of service to Kane County needs no defense. He has devoted over twenty years of his life to the bench and the administration of justice in this county. It is that administration of justice which I seek to defend, because your newspaper, and others, have, through half-truths and innuendoes, added to the misinformation of the general public in this regard. You have gone too far this time, and the record needs to be set straight.
If your editors had bothered to look back over the articles written during the course of the case against Mr. Lofton, or had bothered to send a reporter to the trial itself, they would have realized that this was no ordinary proceeding. The alleged victim waited approximately fifteen months before making any report of the alleged offense. There was absolutely no physical evidence linking my client to this alleged sexual assault, even after she had been physically examined by the Child Advocacy Center of Cook County. But, more importantly, the victim, when she testified during trial, changed her story, and admitted that lying about the case would be a good way of hurting her mother, from whom she had been taken by a state agency. It was only after being taken from her mother's care had the girl told the story of the alleged offense.
You write in your editorial of September 24, 1996, that the jury came to their verdict "not easily, but through great agony and debate." That is what juries are supposed to do in assessing guilt or innocence. This jury deliberated approximately five hours; in my experience, that is a very long time in a case involving an alleged sexual assault of a child by an adult. That leads me to believe that at least some members of that jury had doubts. Had this child, who was thirteen at the time of her testimony, easily convinced the jury of my client's guilt, they would have been back in half an hour.
It may interest you, as it appears you are unaware, that a motion for a directed verdict of not guilty at the close of the State's case, and again at the close of all of the evidence, is a right afforded to an accused by statute, not whim. It is indeed the duty of the defense attorney to make and argue such a motion, and the duty of a judge to grant such a motion should the State fail to meet its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. And that is the standard by which an accused is tried in the United States, not proof due to guilt-by-association or prejudice or sympathy for the alleged victim. Anyone desiring a system that says otherwise needs only to move to Great Britain, where one accused of a crime needs to prove his or her innocence.
You, as informers of the public, have a duty, as well. You have duty to refrain from publicly lynching a judge who is doing his job. You have a duty to inform the public regarding the functions of the system, and the roles each of us who work there perform. When you write a story about a particular case, you have a duty to fairly interview all of the jurors involved, not just the ones who assume the position which you are promoting. You have a duty to inform the public that all persons accused of crimes, even Anthony Lofton, are presumed to be innocent. You have a duty to ensure that a system which relies on truth and honesty and constitutional rights is not politicized through public intimidation and vendettas.
Perhaps the most memorable directed verdict in recent memory in this area occurred earlier this year in DuPage County, when Judge Ronald Mehling directed a verdict of not guilty in the case against Rolando Cruz. Does anyone think that it was easy or politically correct for a judge to direct a verdict of not guilty in such a high profile case? Does anyone believe that he enjoyed calling the State's witnesses liars? Does anyone really believe that any judge would set a criminal free for spite, or because he wants to publicly embarrass a police department or the State's Attorney?
In your campaign against this particular judge, you have revealed your true motivation: to ensure that persons accused of crimes in Kane County are presumed guilty by persons who potentially will assess guilt or innocence. You have forgotten that you, too, play a role in the system, as a reporter of facts. In that duty you have failed, shamefully.
Kathleen Colton, Attorney at Law