Phila. Bar slams judge in rape case Teresa Carr Deni had its support for a third term. Then she reduced a charge to theft of a prostitute's services.

Posted: October 31, 2007

A city judge who reduced a rape charge to "theft of services" in a case involving a prostitute assaulted at gunpoint was harshly criticized yesterday by the head of the Philadelphia Bar Association.

Municipal Judge Teresa Carr Deni's handling of the case was an "unforgivable miscarriage of justice," said Jane Leslie Dalton, the bar association's chancellor. "The victim has been brutalized twice in this case: first by the assailants, and now by the court."

Dalton's criticism came just 28 days after the association recommended that voters Tuesday retain Deni for a third six-year term.

That recommendation, however, came before Deni's ruling in the preliminary hearing for Dominique Gindraw, 19. Dalton's remarks yesterday were clearly aimed at voters who may not have been aware of the case.

According to testimony, a 20-year-old single mother agreed to an hour's worth of sex with Gindraw for $150 on Sept. 20. When she arrived at the address, Gindraw allegedly asked if she would also have sex with his friend; she agreed for an additional $100.

When the friend arrived, according to testimony, he had no money and was armed. The woman said she had been forced at gunpoint to have sex with four men.

Deni dismissed the rape and sexual-assault charges and held Gindraw for trial on a charge of "armed robbery for theft of services."

The District Attorney's Office has since refiled rape charges against Grindraw in Common Pleas Court.

Deni, 59, first elected to the $148,596-a-year judicial post in 1995, did not respond to a telephone message for comment left on her chamber's voicemail.

A week after the hearing, Philadelphia Daily News columnist Jill Porter quoted Deni as saying in an interview that the woman had consented to sex, and that her complaint "minimizes true rape cases and demeans women who are really raped."

Women's and victim advocates around the nation have heavily criticized the judge, and there has been some grassroots organizing against Deni's retention.

Dalton said Deni's ruling and comments showed that she misunderstood "what constitutes rape in Pennsylvania."

Dalton said the law permitted any woman to change her mind after consenting to sex "regardless of the circumstances. We cannot imagine any circumstances more violent or coercive than being forced to have sex with four men at gunpoint."

"In the final analysis, it is up to each individual voter, in the privacy of the voting booth, to make his or her own decision as to whether Judge Deni should continue in her present position," Dalton said.

The bar association's executive director, Kenneth Shear, said that under association rules, Dalton could not revoke the association's Oct. 1 recommendation, which was made after a poll of lawyers who practiced before the judge and deliberations by the association's nonpartisan Commission on Judicial Selection and Retention.

Shear said that the commission had a "due process" obligation to speak with the judge about criticism before issuing a recommendation, and that Dalton had wanted to read a transcript of the hearing before commenting.

"There just was not enough time," Shear said.

A copy of Dalton's statement was sent to the judge before it was made public, but bar officials have received no reaction, Shear said.

Contact staff writer Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2985 or jslobodzian@phillynews.com.

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