There is an election this Tuesday, Nov. 5. You might not know about it: no candidates for president, mayor, or even councilperson or state representative, on the ballot.
Here's a reason to vote: Judge Teresa Deni, who in 2007 ruled that a prostitute could not have been raped, is up for a "retention" election.
In 2007, the incident sparked national outrage. Six years later, most people have forgotten.
The 19-year-old victim, according to an Inquirer report, agreed to be paid for sex with two men. Instead, the men refused to pay, and then forced her to have sex with four men at gunpoint.
To be clear: she alleged that four men forced her to have sex with them, at gunpoint, against her will.
But Deni, who declined a request for an interview, threw out rape and sexual assault charges against the sex worker. She deemed "armed robbery for theft of services" a more appropriate charge.
"The Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits sitting judges from commenting on past decisions or current cases before them," said First Judicial District spokesperson Frank Keel in an e-mailed statement. "It is worth noting, however, that Judge Deni was deemed 'Recommended' by the Bar Association based on her performance on the bench."
At the time, however, Deni thought it appropriate to defend herself to the Philadelphia Daily News.
"She consented, and she didn't get paid. … I thought it was a robbery," she told the paper. She added that the victim's allegation "minimizes true rape cases and demeans woman who are really raped."
In 2007, then-Philadelphia Bar Association Chancellor Jane Leslie Dalton called Deni's ruling an "unforgivable miscarriage of justice."
"The victim has been brutalized twice in this case: first by the assailants, and now by the court."
That year, it was too late for the Bar Association to reconsider its recommendation of Deni, which it had made nearly a month earlier. Today, however, the Bar Association has decided to recommend Deni for another six years on the bench. It's unclear why.
"I cannot discuss individual evaluations of judges or the individual process on any given judge, other than to just describe our process generally," says Teresa Ficken Sachs, an attorney and current chair of the Commission on Judicial Selection and Retention. "For each judge, we analyze all information we have about the judge over the course of their career."
Lindsay Roth, a volunteer for Project SAFE, called the ruling "particularly outrageous." But Roth, whose group provides direct services to women working in street-based sex work and to women who use drugs, says that "the experience that that woman had in court, while particularly awful, isn't especially shocking in the context of daily interactions with police and other law-enforcement officials."
Dalton, the former Bar Association chancellor, tells City Paper that the ruling "sends a message that you come here at your own risk because you shouldn't count on us for support."
In 2007, Deni received 39,758 "no" votes—the most of any judge up for a retention vote that year. But she still managed to win retention with 66 percent support. Judges nearly always win retention votes. The system of electing judges—rather than appointing them—is much criticized because most voters, including those who follow the news closely, do not know who they are voting for.
This will most definitely be a very low-turnout election. But it would still take a groundswell of opposition and organizing to knock Deni—or, for that matter, any other judge—off the bench.
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