Protest against Delaware judge, courts [video]

 (Shirley Min/WHYY)

(Shirley Min/WHYY)

A dozen people turned out on the steps of Delaware’s Carvel State Office Building in Wilmington to fight against a judicial system they say is more like a caste system.

Monday’s rally stemmed from a 2008 child rape case that gained attention last month, when Tracy Richards filed a lawsuit against her ex-husband Robert Richards IV. Court documents show Richards pled guilty to raping his daughter, who was 3 at the time.

The mother of two says four years ago Richards also admitted to sexually abusing their son when he was a toddler. Tracy Richards is seeking damages for personal injuries caused by Richards to their two children, who are presently 11 and 9-years-old.

In the case, Delaware Judge Jan Jurden suspended an eight year prison sentence and sentenced Richards to probation saying he “will not fare well” behind bars.

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Rallyers say the punishment did not fit the crime of fourth degree rape, and question how much of a role Richards’ family lineage and wealth played. Richards is the great grandson of du Pont patriarch Irénée du Pont and his father is Robert Richards III, a retired partner in a prominent Wilmington law firm.

“We have people that are in prison for much less crimes that are serving time,” said protest organizer Earl Lofland. “Just because the gentleman is with [the] family of du Pont, I don’t believe that that should entitle him to special treatments.”

Protester Heather Gilmer is also crying foul. Gilmer says Jurden presided over her case against Delmarva Power. Her son, Alex Barber, was electrocuted when he was playing near wires Gilmer describes as dangerously low. She says Jurden dismissed the case in favor of the utility company before the trial even got underway.

“It’s those who can afford to pay, get off and those who can’t, you just get hurt,” said Gilmer, who was left with $300,000 in hospital bills. “She needs to go. We do not need people like that on the bench, we don’t.”

Jahi Issa helped organize today’s rally. He believes the Richards case reflects a systemic problem in Delaware’s court system.

“If we are to look at the criminalization of Blacks and Latinos in this state, and we know that the percentages are disproportionately Black and Latino, then we can almost assume that rich people get off and poor people don’t.”

Rallyers want an investigation into the Delaware courts and into whether there was any sort of judicial misconduct on Jurden’s part.

Plea deal

Attorney General Beau Biden did not respond to the protesters, but has said he stands by the judge and his prosecutors who handled the case.

Judge Jurden’s decision was part of a plea negotiated between prosecutors and the defense. News of the deal has not only drawn the ire of some Delawareans, but also from people nationwide. Biden defended the actions from his office and Jurden’s ruling in a letter to the editor of Delaware newspaper The News Journal last week.

In it, he wrote about how tough it is to prove child sex abuse in court, especially when the victim was only 3-years-old at the time of the abuse. So rather than re-traumatize the child by requiring her to testify, or risk a jury returning a not-guilty verdict in which Richards could walk away scot-free, Biden said the plea struck a “difficult balance.”

Political posturing

Beau Biden, who is up for reelection this November, also received criticism from the state Republican party. In a statement posted online last week, Delaware GOP Executive Director John Fluharty questioned whether Biden neglected the goings-on in the Attorney General’s office because he was more focused on father Joe Biden’s run for the White House.

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