Justice & The Law | JIM FURLONG

I watched with interest and concern the trial of a female St. John’s high school teacher charged with sexually exploiting a 16-year-old student.

The teacher was found not guilty by Mr. Justice Vikas Khaladar in the Newfoundland Supreme Court. That was the verdict. I don’t know if you have ever found yourself accused of a crime within the justice system. I was and I can tell you it is no fun. You stand accused and you will be found either guilty or not guilty. There is no verdict of ‘innocent’. That is a moral decision. Courts render legal decisions. It is like being trapped in a system over which you have no control. The best you can hope for is a “not guilty” verdict.

I, and my wife, followed the case of that teacher in court. We were both of the opinion that we weren’t sure what happened. There was a reasonable doubt and that is the place from whence verdicts spring.

I can tell you something most unpleasant about our society. Being found not guilty of something doesn’t leave you unscathed. In my own case, it was over three decades ago and as recently as five years ago someone reminded me of my own charge from the distant past, saying: “You got off with that didn’t you?” The answer was NO, I didn’t get off with anything. I was innocent but there is no verdict called innocent. There is only not guilty.

The other thing that stands out in my memory and made me feel very much a victim is the fact was that many of the principals in the case – prosecution, defence, court officials, lawyers from other cases, police, etc. – all seemed part of the same team. When the not guilty verdict was registered the prosecutor came over and offered the suggestion that he never thought I was hardened criminal. I wanted so badly to tell him to “F-off” but I resisted. I just wanted to escape from the justice system.

Parenthetically, I should mention that I never felt the judge was part of that little community where everybody on all legal sides were friends. Good for him and lucky for me.  

My lesson was learned, though, and it was a lesson that stood me in good stead though 40 years of journalism. It was a constant reminder that all people charged are not guilty and somewhere in our legal system there is still justice.

I do not know if the accused, now a free woman, will ever teach again. She was found not guilty. Does that mean her life will return to normal? I doubt it. The legal system has found her “not guilty” and that doesn’t do much for her except keep her out of jail.

I don’t know all the facts in the case but there is a part of me that understands well that courts render legal decisions and that is not the same as justice, which is an elusive concept.