Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. – Lord Acton
As I have repeatedly pointed out, sex worker rights is not an isolated “fringe” issue, but rather one deeply tied into other issues including civil rights (especially those of women and sexual minorities), bodily autonomy, moral panics and witch-hunting, universal criminality, the police state, mass incarceration, lies told by “authorities” and the ability of state actors to destroy the lives of individuals with impunity. Over the past three years I have slowly expanded the scope of my subject matter, but with rare exception I think most of y’all can see how each topic I cover is tied in together. But every once in a while I run into an item which, while not technically sex-work-related, is nonetheless linked to so many of the same issues that it lies very close to the center of the web. Today we’ll look at the case of Bernard Baran, who has been brutally victimized by the state for virtually his entire adult life using exactly the same methods (employed by some of the same people) as are still regularly employed against anyone connected with sex work.
The story (as explained in this 2009 article by Radley Balko) starts in the early days of the Satanic Panic, just as it was beginning to blossom in earnest:
Baran was convicted in January 1985 of molesting six children at a pre-Kindergarten daycare facility in Pittsfield, Massachusetts…[he] was one of the first people in the country to be prosecuted in the daycare sex abuse panic of the 1980s, a bizarre, nationwide hysteria fed by fears of satanism, homophobia, and a wing of child psychology that used unproven interrogation techniques critics say caused children to recount sexual incidents that never took place…Prosecutor Daniel Ford likely engaged in serious misconduct and open bigotry in winning his conviction…yet…has never been investigated or disciplined for his role in the case…and [is now] a judge on the Massachusetts Superior Court…Ford [presented]…an edited video interview…[showing] several children alleging that Baran had sexually abused them. But edited out was footage in which some of the children denied any abuse by Baran, accused other members of the daycare faculty of abuse or of witnessing abuse, and, most importantly, depicted interrogators asking the same questions over and over—even after repeated denials—until a child gave them an affirmative answer. Some children were even given rewards for their answers…
The case against Baran was also awash in homophobia. According to court documents, the first parents to come forward with accusations against Baran in September 1984 had just days earlier registered a complaint with the center upon noticing Baran was “queer” by the way he walked and talked…[when a] child later tested positive for gonorrhea of the throat, Ford used the test…at trial, even though A) the child never accused Baran of forcing him to perform oral sex, B) the child, in fact, specifically denied having sexual contact with Baran on the witness stand, C) Baran tested negative for gonorrhea, D) the boy had told his mother two months prior that his stepfather had orally raped him, and E) on the very day Baran was convicted, charges against the stepfather were turned over to the D.A.’s office for possible prosecution. Baran’s counsel was never informed of the allegation against the stepfather…Ford implied that Baran’s “lifestyle” made it probable that he contracted gonorrhea at other times and knew how to quickly eradicate it to cover his tracks…An affidavit signed by Baran’s boyfriend at the time also paints Ford as a homophobe…[who] spent an inordinate amount of time asking Baran’s boyfriend about his own sex life, employing variations of the word faggot, and a mocking, drawn-out pronunciation of homosexual…in the ensuing months, Baran’s boyfriend was pulled over by police officers and further harassed on a daily basis, and that Ford told him, illegally, that if he spoke with Baran or Baran’s defense attorney, he would be arrested…
As if this weren’t bad enough, Baran’s defense attorney was incompetent and offered practically no resistance to Ford’s one-man jihad. Eventually, a group of civil rights attorneys (including Harvey Silverglate) took up the case and began to work toward a new trial; they recognized that the unedited videotapes would show the lengths to which the children were manipulated, and “filed a motion for the tapes in 2000. For three years, then District Attorney Gerard Downing, who assisted in Baran’s original trial, claimed to be unable to locate the tapes. When Downing died of a sudden heart attack in December 2003, David Capeless took over as D.A…[and] was able to produce them within months.” Silverglate and company moved for a new trial in June of 2004, and Baran was released on bond when a judge granted that motion exactly two years later; exactly three years after that prosecutors finally dropped all charges:
…the appeals court added in a footnote that if the state wanted to retry him, Baran could file a motion for a hearing on Ford’s possible misconduct. By dropping the charges, the D.A. avoided that hearing. “In my opinion, the possibility of an embarrassing hearing into misconduct by a former prosecutor and now sitting Superior Court judge was the main reason, if not the reason, they decided to drop the charges,” Silverglate claims. “The appeals court opinion cut a bit too close to the bone for them.” So while Bernard Baran is free after 22 years…there is no plan to look into the actions of the prosecutor, now a sitting judge, responsible for the conviction. In his position on the Massachusetts Superior Court for the last 20 years, Ford has presided over some of the state’s most serious criminal trials. He also serves on a committee that helps determine the state’s rules and guidelines of criminal procedure…
During the 22 years he was imprisoned for “crimes” that existed only in his accuser’s evil minds, “Baran…was raped and beaten more than 30 times, necessitating six different transfers to new…institutions.” With help from the National Center for Reason and Justice, an organization founded “in 2002 [by] several writers, human and civil rights advocates, and attorneys…to support Baran and others falsely accused of child abuse,” Baran sued the state and won $400,000 compensation last August. But when he asked for his records to be expunged, Massachusetts attorney general Martha Coakley (whom we have seen before) refused without any valid reason:
At 2 p.m. on February 26, Bernard Baran, represented by attorney John Swomley, [asked] a Massachusetts judge to expunge all records of his arrest and conviction. Baran wants to go on with his life with a completely clean slate…The State of Massachusetts, however, is inexplicably fighting to keep Baran from expunging the records of his case. NCRJ calls on the State to serve justice by immediately processing the expungment. “Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley in the past has had a troubling record with these cases,” says…Swomley…“Now is her chance finally to do something right, something no reasonable person could possibly think unwise. We were surprised that the State opposed the expungement of Baran’s records…”
I’m sure Swomley is just being diplomatic, because I’m not surprised at all. Coakley is well-known for her puritanical anti-sex crusades (including a major role in the persecution of Backpage), so her dedication to pillorying Baran is wholly predictable. And as long as we keep giving unlimited power to the least-evolved members of our society, none of us should be surprised when they then use that power to act out their own twisted fantasies on living human beings.