The defense opened it case this morning (Wed 5-14-14) in the trial of former Blatchley Middle School principal Joe Robidou, accused of sexual assault against three female teachers in his building.
Defense attorney Julie Willoughby described a wild, alcohol-fuelled party culture among the staff at the middle school, with Robidou and his accusers at the front-and-center of it.
“They partied like rock stars,” Willoughby said, referring to the Friday-night gatherings of Blatchley staff, that typically progressed from bar to bar in town.
Other occasions for staff parties, said Willoughby, were after chaperoning student dances, when people went out to decompress.
Willoughby suggested that Robidou’s rough-and-tumble behaviors were more than welcomed by the women at these times, and even led to feelings of vindictiveness and rejection when he moved into the district office in January 2013.
As she wrapped up her opening remarks, Willoughby offered the jury this perspective.
“What I suspect that you’re going to learn at this trial — to use an old-fashioned term — is that Mr. Robidou is a cad. Mr. Robidou was not always acting like we want a principal to act. They were partying like rock stars. Mr. Robidou owes an apology certainly to his wife, certainly to the people of Sitka, and to the school district. What the evidence is not going to show is that he committed crimes. It was bad behavior — even boorish behavior, but not necessarily a crime.”
Jurors heard testimony from two of the alleged victims on the first full day of the trial. The first, a substitute teacher — and later student teacher — described receiving encouragement from Robidou to pursue her master’s degree in teaching during the 2011 school year. She described cordial relations with Robidou until he called her into a storage closet in the back of the science classroom after school hours and allegedly exposed himself to her and masturbated.
She also alleged that on several subsequent occasions he held her hand to the front of his trousers and said, “look what you do to me.”
Asked by district attorney Jean Seaton why she didn’t report the incidents, the teacher — a Coast Guard spouse — said “I was a sub, new in the community. I didn’t know if anyone would believe me. It was just an embarrassment.”
Defense attorney Julie Willoughby, in cross examination, suggested that Robidou’s attentions were not uninvited. The witness agreed that some flirting had taken place, and that her marriage of 26 years was not going well.
“Did you go out on Friday nights?” Willoughby asked.
“No,” the witness replied.
“Did you go out after school dances with the other teachers and chaperones to decompress?”
“Once to the Larkspur. Once to the P-Bar.”
“Had you ever engaged in consensual sexual contact with Mr. Robidou?”
The witness then replied that if the definition of consensual sexual contact was intercourse, then the answer was no.
Willoughby then described an incident, following an evening at a bar, when Robidou invited the witness to his house while his wife was away. When she arrived, he was naked. Willoughby pressed her for details of the encounter, what he was doing, what parts of her body he touched, she said she couldn’t remember.
Later, at school, Willoughby asked the woman if Robidou ever kissed her. “I was kissed,” she said. “But I did not initiate it.”
When district attorney Jean Seaton stood for redirect, the woman admitted that alcohol was involved the night she visited Robidou’s house. She never went back.
“Did you ever encourage him to expose himself?” Seaton asked. The witness said no. “Why didn’t you report him?”
“I’m an outgoing person,” she replied. “I tend to avoid confrontation.”
The woman also said that she required a letter of recommendation from Robidou to obtain her current job as a second-grade teacher in Florida.
Jurors heard from a second witness Wednesday afternoon who describe interactions with Robidou that led to a charge of Assault in the Second Degree. Following this initial testimony, Superior Court judge David George sent the jury home and called the parties into his chambers, presumably to lay the ground rules for the further questioning of witnesses.
The trial is expected to last at least through the end of the week.