JEFFERSONVILLE — Attorneys for the Greater Clark County School Corporation have filed motions in a civil case related to child molestation seeking to close the upcoming trial to the public and prevent the plaintiff from speaking with news media.
Michael Begin, 21, pleaded guilty in 2019 to 20 level 4 felonies for child molestation related to children between 3 and 8 years old he supervised at Clark County YMCA or Thomas Jefferson Elementary School. He was involved with the victims through a teaching program at Jeffersonville High School, where he was an 18-year-old student at the time of the abuse.
In April 2019, Begin was sentenced to 120 years with 20 suspended.
Since early 2018, more than 10 civil cases have been filed involving Begin, with most also including the school corporation (GCCS) and the YMCA, and with some listing individual staff as defendants as well.
The complaint in the first case, filed Feb. 7, 2018 and set to go to trial in May, alleges that Greater Clark was negligent in its duties to protect students from abuse. The plaintiff in this case has reached a resolution with the YMCA.
On April 2, attorneys with Indianapolis-based firm Frost Brown Todd LLC, which represents Greater Clark, filed the two motions in this case — one seeking to exclude both the trial proceedings and court transcript from public access, the other to prevent the victim, family or attorney from disclosing information to the news media.
“Unless this court excludes from public access the upcoming trial proceedings — where the minor and other witnesses will be testifying and counsel will be making arguments as to the alleged molestation — the testimony and resulting transcript will be available for public access,” according to the motion.”Which means details related to the minor will be available to the public at large and will remain that way in perpetuity into their adulthood because there is no way to ‘claw’ something back once it is publicly disseminated.”
It also states that if public access is allowed, it will create “substantial prejudicial effect to ongoing proceedings... .”
In June, Karl Truman, who represents the victim, filed a motion to keep the victim from having to give a deposition to the school corporation’s attorneys; the child was instead interviewed by a mental health professional hired by the defense. Truman said he does not intend to call on the victim to testify.
“It is my intention that she will not testify because I just think it would further add to the trauma of a young child who’s been sexually abused to sit in a courtroom and have to answer questions like that,” Truman said. “Because there’s no dispute that it happened, there’s no dispute that Michael Begin did sexually molest her. The only relevant question for her is how it has affected her emotionally longterm and that is really for the doctor..and parents to explain.”
He further said the public should be aware that “the school, a public entity, wants to keep the trial against them a secret with no public access,” according to a news release from attorney Truman. He added Wednesday during an interview that “The courtrooms are intended to be open to the public. More importantly, we have a government entity that wants to operate in secret behind closed doors. I think the public has a right to know to make a judgement for themselves did the school do everything they could to protect these children?”
When reached by email Wednesday afternoon, defense attorneys declined to comment on the pending case.
The defense’s second motion cites articles in the News and Tribune and other news media for which the plaintiff’s attorney has given interviews. The motion states that the attorney, Truman, has made statements that could prejudice a potential jury, both through news media directly and through a website related to multiple civil cases in the matter.
The motion also notes that a previous request to change the venue based on pretrial publicity was denied.
“The issues in this case should be tried by an untainted and impartial jury, and plaintiff’s actions in frequently speaking with the media have prejudiced GCCS and will continue to prejudice GCCS if allowed,” the motion says.
Truman said the news media has the right to know each side and that “the attorney for the school can present their side to the media.”
A hearing on the motions has not been conducted, but a final pretrial conference is scheduled for April 21 in Clark County Circuit No. 1, with a jury trial set for May 17.
An amended witness list recently filed last week by Greater Clark includes 43 potential witnesses and 38 pieces of evidence. An October witness list filed by the plaintiff includes 18 potential witnesses and 10 or more pieces of evidence.
Evidence presented to the jury could include Michael Begin’s file, police reports, a practicum agreement between Greater Clark and the YMCA, surveillance footage of both the YMCA and Thomas Jefferson Elementary School and communications regarding allegations and investigation of sexual abuse.