Call it Everyman’s “Shawshank Redemption.” Vladek Filler has won again (Bangor Daily News, 3/16/19). His victory is now complete. On March 12, federal Judge John Woodcock issued his ruling awarding Filler $1.77 million in damages for his illegal and immoral persecution by various authorities of the cities of Gouldsboro and Ellsworth, and Hancock and Washington counties. (The award is against a single person, Linda Gleason. Filler previously settled out of court with other defendants.) Perhaps more important than that award though was this statement in open court by Judge Woodcock:
And this is really, from a judicial perspective, it’s just appalling. I can’t say how sorry I am to you that you had such a terrible experience with the criminal justice system in this country and in this state. There’s no excuse for what happened to you. I know that you were born in Kiev. Not far from Kiev is Prague. In Prague, there was an author named Franz Kafka, and he wrote a book called The Trial about a man who is subjected to a malicious and befuddling and horrific trial system, and, unfortunately, you’re a living embodiment of what Franz Kafka wrote about. And I’m just terribly sorry it happened to you; there is just absolutely no excuse.”
The final message of Filler’s story is that a person can, by being right, strong, calm and persistent, prevail over seemingly insuperable odds, over a system of state power that’s rigged against him.
I won’t reprise the facts of Filler’s case. I’ve written about it numerous times before. But here are a few of the people and “powers that be” over whom he prevailed:
His ex-wife who, fearing the loss of custody of their kids, leveled false allegations of sexual abuse and child abuse at him. Filler proved her allegations to be false and won sole custody of the children.
One assistant district attorney who prosecuted him for rape knowing him to be innocent of the charge. Filler proved himself to be innocent of the charge despite ADA Mary Kellett having lied to the police, lied to the judge, lied to the jury, lied to the press and violated the rules of procedure, the rules of evidence and at least seven ethical requirements for prosecutors. Filler’s persistence caused Kellett to resign her job as ADA and become the first and only prosecutor in the history of the state to be disciplined by the state bar association.
Numerous police officers who worked hand-in-glove with Kellett to try to railroad an innocent man into prison. Filler demonstrated their malfeasance in his civil suit against them. Rather than face a jury, the police settled that case out of court.
Filler prevailed in two attempts to find him guilty of criminal wrongdoing. He forced the state bar to discipline an assistant District Attorney and won significant money damages from numerous individuals and state entities. He is completely exonerated and they are disgraced. The only irony remaining is that the only person to yet apologize to Filler is Judge Woodcock, a man who’s never wronged him.
The criminal justice system is in many ways stacked against defendants. Even the innocent sometimes go to prison. But Vladek Filler proved that an innocent man can defeat the power of the state.
The family court system too is in many ways stacked against fathers, particularly when sexual assault allegations (i.e. the “silver bullet) are made against them. But Vladek Filler has proven that being in the right plus strength and perseverance can win the day.
For all those things, he stands as a beacon of hope to every innocent person who must confront and fight judicial systems that sometimes seem Kafkaesque.