Japanese court dismisses motion to disqualify panel in Brown case
October 23, 2003
NAHA, Okinawa — The Fukuoka High Court’s local branch dismissed a defense motion Monday to disqualify the three-judge panel presiding over Marine Maj. Michael Brown’s trial on charges of attempted rape and destruction of personal property.
“It was what we expected,” Brown’s attorney, Toshimitsu Takaesu, said Tuesday. “We are now preparing an appeal to the Supreme Court.”
Contacted in Tokyo, Takaesu said he discussed options with Brown and his client is adamant on proceeding through the appeals process. He has until Friday to file his motion.
“After that, I expect it will take about three weeks for the Supreme Court to make its judgment,” the lawyer said. “We are pursuing every avenue in order for Maj. Brown to receive a fair trial.”
Takaesu was in Tokyo meeting with Japanese lawyers pushing for changing the Japanese legal system to give defendants some of the same rights as the U.S. system, including the right to have a legal representative present when questioned by police and prosecutors.
Brown, 40, was charged in connection with accusations he sexually assaulted a Filipina barmaid from the Camp Courtney officers’ club Nov. 2, after she picked him up to give him a ride to his off-base home. She also initially accused him of throwing her phone into the Tengan River when she threatened to call police.
Brown, assigned to the command element of 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force, has pleaded not guilty to both charges.
The woman, Victoria Nakamine, also 40, asked that the charges be dropped when she testified during a May hearing. She claimed police and prosecutors coerced her into signing statements she did not understand against Brown.
Nakamine said Brown fondled her after she parked her car along a deserted road to talk but stopped his advances when she complained.
He threw her cell phone into the water when he became frustrated with her joking threat to call police, she said.
When the three-judge panel presiding over his trial ruled statements Nakamine signed prior to Brown’s indictment Dec. 19 be admitted as evidence along with her testimony, Brown made an emotional request for the judges to step down.
Their acceptance of the statements, in which Nakamine said she wished Brown to be punished severely, clearly showed they were prejudiced against him, he said.
An independent panel of Naha District Court judges dismissed his motion; Brown subsequently filed an appeal in Fukuoka High Court.
In denying Brown’s motion, presiding Judge Hitoshi Watanabe said it had no merit.
“The claim is based merely on his dissatisfaction with the way the case is being handled, including the way the evidence is examined and the decision the judges made whether or not to accept evidence,” he wrote.
“The court did not find any evidence that factors outside the litigation procedures existed. … After reviewing the records, the court did not find any objective fact that there is a fear the judges would not conduct a fair trial.”
No date has been set to resume Brown’s trial in Naha District Court.
Last week, Brown, who is out of jail on bail, sent a letter to U.S. Ambassador Howard Baker, asking for his help in pressing Japanese officials to investigate the way his case has been handled.
“I am not receiving, nor will I receive, a fair trial,” Brown wrote in an eight-page letter accusing judges and prosecutors of conspiring to “meet a minimum threshold of evidence to reach a finding of guilty.”
Brown’s letter was transmitted from the U.S. Consulate on Okinawa to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, said embassy spokesman Michael Boyle.
“Any time an American writes a letter to the embassy, it gets serious treatment,” Boyle said. “Whether or not there’s anything the embassy can do in this case is under consideration.”
Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.