PHILADELPHIA – In a rare rebuke, a professional association for lawyers has criticized a judge for refusing to uphold sexual assault charges against a man accused of letting friends rape a prostitute he had hired. The judge said she considered the case "theft of services."
Municipal Judge Teresa Carr Deni heightened the furor when she defended her decision to a newspaper. "She consented and she didn't get paid," Deni told the Philadelphia Daily News. "I thought it was a robbery."
Deni also told the newspaper that the case "minimizes true rape cases and demeans women who are really raped."
Dominique Gindraw was accused of ordering the accuser at gunpoint to have sex with three men, but Deni dismissed the rape and sexual assault charges Oct. 4. She upheld conspiracy, robbery, false imprisonment and other charges against Gindraw.
The chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association issued a statement Tuesday that questioned Deni's understanding of state law.
"The victim has been brutalized twice in this case: first by the assailants, and now by the court," Chancellor Jane Leslie Dalton wrote. "We cannot imagine any circumstances more violent or coercive than being forced to have sex with four men at gunpoint."
Carol Tracy, executive director of the Philadelphia-based Women's Law Project, called Deni's comments "a throwback to the Middle Ages, when rape was a crime against property, not against a person."
The 20-year-old woman, a single mother, testified that she worked for an escort service that advertised through the Web site Craigslist.
She went to a North Philadelphia home Sept. 20 to meet Gindraw, who had agreed to pay her $150 for sex. He then said that a friend was coming with the money and that the friend would pay her another $100 to perform sex acts.
Instead, three other men arrived, and Gindraw pulled a gun and ordered the woman to have sex with all of them, she testified.
"He said that I'm going to do this for free, and I'm not going nowhere, and I better cooperate or he was going to kill me," she testified at a preliminary hearing.
Gindraw also took her cell phone and a purse containing pepper spray, she said.
The other men have not been identified or charged.
"Even though the woman is a prostitute, it doesn't mean she couldn't be a victim," Dalton said Wednesday. "Once she says 'No, it's not OK,' then to have sex with her is rape."
A bar association committee recently gave Deni high marks and recommended that voters support her in a Nov. 6 judicial retention election.
Deni did not immediately return a phone message left at her office Wednesday. Her lawyer, George Bochetto, said Deni called Dalton's statement that the victim was brutalized twice "regrettable."
"The transcript doesn't necessarily tell the whole story," Bochetto said. He said Deni also considers a witness' tone of voice, demeanor and other factors in her rulings.
Prosecutor Richard DeSipio and Gindraw's public defender, Susan Lin, did not return messages left Wednesday seeking comment.