A candidate for the 51st District Court in Waterford Township is being sued for defamation following public remarks she allegedly made insinuating that a man many consider falsely accused of raping his then 14-year-old autistic daughter was guilty of the crime — over four years after the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office dropped the charges against him due to lack of evidence.
Andrea Dean, who is challenging 51st District Court Judge Jodi Debbrecht in the Nov. 6 general election, allegedly made the comments at a public forum last month that “has since been rebroadcast,” the lawsuit filed yesterday, Tuesday, Oct. 16, states.
A former assistant Oakland County prosecutor, Dean was asked by a reporter about her current sentiments on how she approached the case of Julian Wendrow, who spent three months in jail on the charges that he sexually assaulted his disabled daughter and that his wife, Thal, allowed the abuse to happen.
The lawsuit, which is now before Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Rudy J. Nichols, states that a reporter asked her the following question:
“I was startled to read in sworn testimony you gave during the civil lawsuit years after the [criminal] case had been dropped the following statement (and I quote) ‘I would do this case again in a heartbeat, and I think the allegations are true.’ Is that an accurate summary of your sentiments today, and if it is, on the basis of what conceivable evidence would you prosecute the Wendrows for assaulting their daughter?”
According to the complaint, Dean responded by saying, “It is a true statement absolutely. I would do that case again in a heartbeat.”
Calling that statement “malicious and false,” the lawsuit states that Dean defamed the Wendrows last month by claiming “that the Wendrows are guilty of child abuse and/or that there exists or did exist sufficient evidence to prosecute them for abusing their children.”
Other statements Dean allegedly made at the forum on an expert witness in the case — who the reporter said “debunked the only evidence in the case,” according to the lawsuit — are also called “malicious and false” attempts to defame the Wendrows.
The case arose in 2007 after a controversial practice known as “facilitated communication” produced what prosecutors believed at the time was evidence that the girl, now 19, had been sexually assaulted by her father since she was 7-years-old.
But the case — which drew substantial local and national media attention — unraveled after her testimony in court when, using the same facilitated communication technique that the lawsuit says is “controversial and scientifically ridiculed,” she was unable to answer a series of simple questions.
David Gorcyca, who was the elected Oakland County prosecutor when the case was in court, decided to drop the charges against Julian and Thal Wendrow in March 2008. Both Wendrows had been jailed, their children were placed in foster care, and Thal Wendrow lost her job with Oakland County, in addition to the family being “devastated in every conceivable way,” the lawsuit states.
“It has taken so much effort to try to rebuild our lives, to try to provide as much support and security as we can to our children to allow them to move forward in a positive way — to hear Andrea Dean, once again, publicly stating that we are guilty of the most heinous act any parent can commit, when she knows this to be untrue, is devastating to us,” Julian and Thal Wendrow said in a statement provided by Deborah Gordon, their attorney. “It reopens old wounds.”
The Wendrows, who Gordon is representing in both the defamation lawsuit and a separate but related civil case that is now in the U.S. District Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, Ohio, are seeking more than $25,000 in damages.
It wasn’t just the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office that bore criticism for its handling of the Wendrow case. The West Bloomfield Township Police Department paid the Wendrow family a $1.8 million settlement for what the lawsuit says was its “contemptible handling of the matter,” and officials or former officials with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department, Walled Lake Consolidated School District, West Bloomfield Township, and the Michigan Department of Human Services were all named as defendants in the lawsuit that is currently in the hands of the appellate court in Cincinnati.
District court judges serve six-year terms and are currently paid $138,272 annually.
The lawsuit claims that Dean refused to retract her statements about the Wendrow case, and that she threatened to sue the Wendrow family and their legal counsel if the defamation lawsuit was filed.
Messages seeking comment left with Dean yesterday were not returned prior to press time.