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Defense Attorneys: It's Time to 'Keep Your Mouth Shut'

PittGirl blasts what she sees as a dangerous trend by attorneys who seem to be wiling to say anything, no matter how atrocious, in defense of their clients.

"I don't think there's any question that this young lady is the one who instigated it, for lack of a better word.”  

These words, spoken by defense attorney Pat Thomassey to the media in defense of his client, the latest (third) Plum teacher accused of sex with a student are the exact reason the phrase “make your head explode” was coined.

I mean, can you feel it? That little flicker in your brain? The little spark of dull rage that starts to burn hotter and hotter and suddenly you’re very aware of the location of your temples? Your skull. Your brain matter. Things inside are snapping and firing. You read the sentence again. It’s burning behind your eyes now, and there’s heat so strong it is radiating to your heart. KABLOOEY!

It was these words, these atrocious, dangerous words spoken about a 15-year-old girl, that started my research into recent local student/teacher sexual assault cases. Because I want to expose the irresponsibility displayed by these defense attorneys. The danger of these types of words. The sickening flippancy they display in an effort to sway PUBLIC opinion toward the accused by vilifying the accuser, a young student, when the only opinion that actually matters is that of the COURTS.

Let’s start with former Plum teacher Jason Cooper, accused of a host of crimes toward a now 18-year-old female. Allegedly, their relationship started while she was a sophomore and gradually escalated into alcohol and sex after her 18th birthday, but while she was still a student. His attorney, Michael DeRiso, plans to argue that his client admits to the sexual activity, but that since the girl turned 18 before they had sex, she was legal and therefore no real crime was committed. During a preliminary court session, he also argued that the state's institutional sexual assault law applies only to minors.

And he got flippant: “If I'm married and my wife teaches at (University of Pittsburgh) and I'm a law student, every time we're having sex — hopefully — she's committing a felony.”

First, he had to stick the “hopefully” in there. Just to be glib. Hahahah. Let’s make jokes when talking about alleged sexual assault of students by teachers! Let’s trivialize this life-destroying thing! Hahah! Try the veal!

Second, he’s trying to sweep under the legal rug a 2012 Pennsylvania law that makes it illegal for teachers to have sex with students as long as the student is enrolled at the school, because students cannot legally consent to sex with a teacher due to the nature of the student/teacher relationship. The law was written to protect high school students like this victim. Because the law knows about grooming.

Grooming. According to the Trib, “The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape describes grooming as the process used to gain the trust of a child, and possibly the child's family, leading up to child sexual abuse.” That would be Cooper’s alleged actions starting from the time the girl was 15 up until they had sex when she was 18. The kissing. The alcohol. And according to Judge David Cashman, possibly exploiting emotional distress she was experiencing at home. Grooming.

DeRiso says, “Unless I blacked out or missed something, I heard nothing of any grooming.”

I find it hard to believe that any child predator would wait until the moment his victim turned 18 to start to seduce her. No, child predators often lay the groundwork long before the abuse occurs, years even.

His remarks are dangerous. Other victims who were groomed by teachers starting in their mid-teens but didn’t have sex until they turned 18 will be less likely to come forward because of DeRiso’s statements. They’ll think maybe they weren’t a victim of sexual assault. They’ll trivialize the grooming. They’ll say, “Sure we started kissing and stuff when I was 15, but we didn’t have sex until I was an 18-year-old senior. Maybe I’ll just keep my mouth shut.”

Let’s move on to Pat Thomassey, who I quoted at the beginning of this post. He’s representing Plum substitute teacher Michael Cinefra who is accused of sex with a 15-year-old female student.

And again, this isn’t rocket science. A 15-year-old cannot legally consent to sex with an adult, and certainly not a teacher. But Thomassey ignores that. According to the Trib: “Thomassey said there is a question of whether Cinefra knew the girl was under 16. ‘He was a substitute,’ Thomassey said. ‘He wasn't there quite often.’”

Because if she was 16 she can then consent to sex with her teacher and it becomes legal? Nope. Thomassey is conveniently ignoring that pesky Pennsylvania law that says a student cannot consent to sex with their teacher. He’s trying distraction. Hey, maybe he didn’t know she wasn’t 16.

I’m not sure what to even write about the absolute atrociousness, irresponsibleness, and downright evilness of telling the media that a 15-year-old child instigated sex with her teacher. It’s beyond despicable and incredibly dangerous. The danger? That other victims will worry they’ll also be accused of basically being called a slut. By an adult. To the media. The public. “They’ll say I INSTIGATED it. I started it. I WANTED it. Maybe I’ll just keep my mouth shut,” she’ll say.

Let’s move on to attorney Jeff Monzo, representing former Jeannette high school wrestling coach Joshua Westfall, who is accused of sexually assaulting two 16-year-old female students at his home. After a preliminary hearing in which the young victims tearily described the events that allegedly took place, Monzo told reporters, “This is some high school girls upset with him about things that did or did not occur relative to things that they wanted him to do that he actually wouldn’t do.”

First, only a lawyer could utter such a convoluted sentence with a straight face. Second, he is saying on the record to the media, not behind closed doors to a judge or jury, that these girls WANTED IT and his client was an upstanding citizen who wouldn’t do it so they got upset, like girls do, and pressed charges. It’s just the drama of some spurned schoolgirls, he is telling us. Nothing to see here. Just some sluts. Move along.

In the criminal complaint, a Westmoreland County Detective said there were text messages indicating an intimate relationship. Yet even if these girls did indeed lie about an alleged assault, attorney Monzo is entering dangerous territory by saying such things to the media, because again, future victims will see his words and say, “I’ll just be accused of wanting it. I’ll be called a lying slut. Maybe I’ll just keep my mouth shut.”

Another lawyer who went to the media to accuse a young victim of sexual assault of lying is Chuck Gallo who represented Michael White a former teacher at Perry Traditional Academy who was accused of molesting a 15-year-old student and furnishing alcohol and having sex with a 16-year-old student.

When the charges were filed, Gallo said, to the media, on the record, “We have no reason not to be very skeptical of these allegations at this time.” He later said, “Right now all we have are the statements of a 15-year-old girl, and based on those assertions alone without ever being in court or reaching a burden of proof, Michael White’s life has been destroyed.”

This child is lying! She’s just a 15-year-old girl and her lies have destroyed Michael White’s life! Poor, poor Michael White!

Except, when White was caught in a lie regarding his fresh body tattoos, he admitted his guilt and is now sitting in a jail cell for three to ten years. So who was the liar?

You’d think I’m done because this post is super long already, but kiddos, there’s more.

Let’s talk about attorney David Shrager’s handling of teacher/student sex assaults. Ringgold guidance counselor Lianne Danko is accused of having a sexual relationship with an 18-year-old male student. During the preliminary hearing, Shrager hinted that the reason the student was testifying against the teacher was simply because he was being shielded from prosecution. He then asked the victim in court if he had pictures of undressed underaged girls on his cellphone. The prosecutor objected and the judge upheld it, preventing the the student from answering the question. 

After the hearing, he said of the alleged victim, “We were able to get some important information. We may have discovered some potential bias by the witness.”

Whatever may be on the student's phone may have absolutely nothing to do with the charges against the adult in this case. Shrager’s not stupid; he knew it would be objected, but he wanted it out there for all to hear so he went there in court, and then called it “bias” to the media.

So let’s add this to the Dangerous Results of the Crap Spewed by Defense Attorneys to the Media file -- “Crap, I don't want the world to know what's on my phone. How embarrassing. Maybe I’ll just keep my mouth shut.”

Is that it, PittGirl? Are you done?

I’m not done! I’m sorry! There’s so much despicableness! Take a break and grab a drink. I’ll keep the rage fire burning for you.

And we’re back.

Let’s talk about Attorney Phil DiLucente, who represented former Mt. Lebanon music teacher Jason Greenawalt who was accused of sending explicit text messages to a male student starting in November of 2010 when the boy was a sophomore, and ending in June of 2012.

The student finally pressed charges in 2013, to which DiLucente said, to the media, on the record, “My legal feeling is that when you don’t promptly complain, there may be an issue with the complaint.”

Ah! He waited so long! Clearly he’s lying or he has some fault here! Gotta be PROMPT or we’ll doubt you! Let’s add to the Danger File, “Ugh. I’ve waited so long. It happened two years ago! They won’t believe me now. Maybe I’ll just keep my mouth shut.”

Except, the victim wasn’t lying. He wasn’t in the wrong. Greenawalt admitted his guilt and was sentenced to three years of probation and a lifetime ban from classrooms. 

This was the point I had to stop researching, because I’d spent hours and hours getting angrier and angrier. I get that defense attorneys must DEFEND, but there is no rule that they must use the media as their outlet to paint young alleged victims in a negative light. They say things to the media they could NEVER say in a court. They seem to forget their job is to defend in the court of law, not further hurt victims or future victims by callously defending the accused in the court of public opinion just to see themselves on television furthering their smarmy brand.

They forget that for every child who decides to “just keep my mouth shut,” another child may become a victim of that same predator. These attorneys owe it to the alleged victims and the future victims to say only this to the media regarding the young accusers, “We’ve seen the charges and we plan to fight them vigorously in the court of law.”

Basically, defense attorneys, maybe you should just keep your mouths shut.


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