Judge Genece Brinkley’s workload in Courtroom B (Family Court), 1801 Vine St., is mostly run-of-the-mill, like Nancy Johnson v. Demetrius Mitchell, an assault case where the giant defendant (who works in demolition) started pushing his girlfriend around because she wanted to see other men. So Nancy crowned Demetrius with a glass jar, and he took 13 stitches in the forehead.
This mildly amused Lucy, B’s Court Officer Extraordinaire, and Amy, its beautiful court reporter. But the action last week was clearly going to be Maria Garre, who’d taught at John Paul Jones Middle School on Ann and Memphis streets in Kensington until June of last year.
That’s when she resigned, charged with sleeping with one of her students, Michael Donahue, then 15, giving him beer and marijuana and driving him up to Boston, over to Atlantic City, and then down to Frederick, Md. (where she now lives), for God knows what unholy reasons. And not only that, but Garre allegedly invited Mike’s buddy Dustin Kempton, only 13 at the time, along for the ride (though there are no direct sex charges against her regarding Dusty).
From all reports, Mikey and Dusty are bad boys, both now residing in “holding facilities” on charges unrelated to the Garre case (and having to do with crack, say sources).
Defense lawyer Larry Krasner was careful to stress that both showed up one day in April 2003 at his client’s apartment on St. James Place near Rittenhouse Square after “running away from home.” Garre, Mike’s homeroom teacher, took them in “out of altruism,” Krasner says. “She was naive, and trying to help them straighten out their lives.”
Garre fed them, and took them to the movies and to play electronic games. She had a small place, so she and Mike, the prosecution alleges, shared the bed, while Dusty slept on “a sort of couch” that was also in the bedroom.
In Courtroom B, for the preliminary hearing, they dragged Mike in, trussed like he’d come from Abu Ghraib. His hands were cuffed behind him, and he moved only when his burly guard signaled. He was about 5-foot-4, 130 pounds, a pasty blond kid with a deceptively passive expression who would suddenly flare feloniously, or sneer with the rube sophistication of minor delinquents. “Yeah , I shed I run away and called her, but that don’t mean … ”
“Object, your honor!” Krasner bawled.
“Sustained!” Judge Brinkley agreed. “Witness will not favor us with his opinions.”
Garre, when she walked into B, was smoldering, despite her dark streaked hair being restrained in a lawyerly upsweep. It was her litheness, her muscular body, the tastefulness of her tan cashmere sweater over her straight black skirt, the demure beads at her throat and wrists. The whole female cast of the court–Lucy, Amy, defense counsels and ADAs, plus Judge Brinkley herself–seemed fascinated.
How could a woman of such classic carriage–a jawline as strong as Angelina Jolie’s, a nose to send J. Lo back to the surgeons, a sense of self so pronounced she began to fidget (they keep you standing for a long time when they’re going to arraign you)–have gotten involved with these snot-nosed kids?
Dusty, though a little taller, darker and better-looking than the feckless Mikey, was still a baby. Judge Brinkley and ADA Robert Foster, a kind of white-hat Bruce Cutler, had to keep asking him to “speak up” and “look at me” when he mumbled his replies. Dusty seemed as exhausted and disinterested as an 11-month-old thinking of din-din.
What could Garre have been after?
A macho young cop wearing black designer leather sneakers under his standard blues landed in the little chair meant for Lucy’s petitioners. He pretended to be whispering something to her, but was using the chance to strobe Garre, rippling his own jaw muscles and shopping his biceps as physical graffiti signals.
Finally, she got it. She turned her head slightly. She looked at him directly.
Keep your eyes on the court!” Lucy suddenly bellowed. “Stand up straight, ma’am, and behave yourself!”
Apparently such reconnoitering is still a male prerogative in the Philly legal system.
Foster was droning the charges: “involuntary deviate sexual intercourse; corrupting a minor; supplying drugs and alcohol to minors; sexual abuse; kidnapping … ”
Krasner argued against the last one: “Your honor, and most respectfully, when Dustin developed a blister on his toe and wanted to go home to Philadelphia for treatment [while the three were in Atlantic City], my client drove him there immediately! The boys came to her apartment voluntarily. They were free to go at any time.”
“Your honor,” Foster interrupted, “she made no attempt to let their families know where the boys were. She was aware there were signs up near John Paul Jones asking of Donahue’s whereabouts. Two months, your honor! She was 32 years old.”
He went on to elicit details from Mikey.
“When you say you had sex with your teacher, what exactly do you mean?”
Mike sneered: “Don’t you know?”
“What positions were you in?”
“Sometimes she was on top, sometimes I was.”
“Any other actions?”
“Yeah. I got BJs–what we call ’em. Blowjobs,” Mikey smirked, and leered at his former teacher.
“Your honor!” Krasner interjected. “Is he smiling?”
“Oh, come on, counsel,” the judge admonished.
And so it went. Krasner’s position appears to be that prosecutors jumped on a junior sociopath’s testimony without doing any real research into what his client may in fact have done or what her motives were; that they then made deals with Mikey and Dusty, giving them full “immunization” in return for cooperating testimony against their old friend; and are ignoring Garre’s star status as a superlative teacher in both Philadelphia and Maryland, where she began working after resigning at JP Jones, and where she’s never been charged with any similar crimes. Krasner told Channel 10: “She did not have sex at all with this young man.”
There’s also the matter of a large civil suit to be brought against Garre and the Philadelphia School District by Donahue’s family.
By the end of the day, he was able to get Judge Brinkley to knock off “false imprisonment” and “unlawful restraint.” But the felonies stuck, and the next step will be arraignment Sept. 30, at the Criminal Justice Center, at 13th and Filbert.
Trial on whether Maria Garre was an overzealous altruist or that rarest of offenders, a female pedophile, should begin early in the new year.
John Lombardi (email@example.com), a contributor to New York magazine, wrote for the original Distant Drummer, an ancient predecessor of PW.