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As of Friday, Dennis Gallagher no longer represented Middle Village, Maspeth, Ridgewood and Glendale on the City Council. The former city councilman pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges after initially being charged with felony rape. As part of his plea, Gallagher was forced to resign from the Council, but he won't have to spend a day in jail or register as a sex offender.
The victim now says she is not satisfied with the plea deal. The district attorney's office, however, said if the victim hadn't agreed to the plea deal, it never would've been offered. There is every reason to believe that this wouldn't have been an easy case to make. It is possible that both Gallagher and the victim had been drinking and their recollection of what happened that night as well as their judgment may have been affected.
Gallagher may not be going to prison, but his reputation has been shattered and his future in politics destroyed. He has embarrassed his family and disappointed his constituents.
If Gallagher sexually assaulted this woman, he deserves no pity. Nevertheless, something that he told the Daily News this week raises serious concerns. Gallagher said he pleaded guilty because he couldn't afford to go to trial. "I still feel strongly that had this gone to trial, I would've been vindicated," he said.
The former councilman said he has already paid his attorneys $460,000 and couldn't come up with the additional $430,000 it would cost to go to trial. Unlike many of the defendants prosecuted in Queens County, Gallagher doesn't qualify for a court-appointed attorney based on the salary that he now no longer collects. Middle-class defendants often put up their homes to borrow money to pay for the retainer to hire an attorney. Even if they win their criminal case, they still face the prospect of losing that home.
The reality is that while indigent defendants have nothing to lose by going to trial, middle-class defendants can find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place. But no one should feel compelled to plead guilty to a reduced charge for a crime that they didn't commit just to save their family from financial destruction.
If Gallagher is saying that he didn't commit this crime, that he didn't take sexual advantage of this woman, then the court should reject his plea. At the same time, the justice system should find a way to enable defendants to pay for their defense without the likelihood of financial destruction. Particularly in a crime as serious as this allegedly was, the cost of legal representation shouldn't be the controlling factor.
©2008 Community Newspaper Group
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