The McMartin Pre-School child molestation case, now in its 17th month of preliminary hearing, has already cost Los Angeles County more than $4 million, although a final resolution of the case may still be years away.
The lengthy proceedings have also financially ruined all seven defendants and possibly at least one defense attorney, and they have taken an intangible emotional and physical toll of many participants.
Prosecutors finished presenting their case in October, after calling to the witness stand only 14 of the 41 child witnesses named in the criminal complaint, in which the founder and six teachers at the Manhattan Beach nursery school are charged with multiple counts of molestation and conspiracy.
Last month, defense attorneys began to present an "affirmative defense" that they predicted will prolong the preliminary hearing through the middle of 1986.
However, last week, Municipal Judge Aviva K. Bobb abruptly rested the defense's case. She denied a defense request for a postponement, ordering the attorneys to call their next witness or to consider themselves finished.
A pediatrician who examined many of the alleged victims and made physical findings of sexual abuse is scheduled to resume her testimony Jan. 6, as the last witness. The physician, Dr. Astrid Heger of Children's Institute International, was recalled by the defense after testifying for the prosecution and being cross-examined earlier.
No Rebuttal Planned
Bobb's court clerk said Friday that the district attorney's office has informed the judge that it does not plan to present a rebuttal to the defense's case and that efforts are under way to get Heger back in the courtroom next week to face final questions.
The judge must then decide whether enough evidence has been presented to order any of the defendants to stand trial in Superior Court and, if so, on how many counts. She has already dismissed two-thirds of the original charges because prosecutors did not call witnesses to support them.
Finally, the district attorney must re-evaluate the strength of its case before deciding whether to proceed further. Prosecution sources have told The Times that they disagree on whether all seven defendants should be prosecuted, and one prosecutor expressed a belief several months ago that four defendants may be innocent.
Meanwhile, the case continues to set California records for length and cost. Dan Ikemoto, assistant auditor-comptroller for Los Angeles County, said county costs from July, 1983, when authorities began investigating the first complaints against key defendant Raymond Buckey, through last month total $3,949,770, making certain a year-end cost of more than $4 million.
Ikemoto said that total includes $1,466,908 for the district attorney's investigation and prosecution; $1,403,976 for the Sheriff's Department's investigation; $511,467 in municipal court costs; $295,487 for court-appointed attorneys; $161,461 for the public defenders' office; $106,260 for marshals, and $4,211 in county clerk costs.
The case has cost most of the defendants their life savings, homes, jobs, reputations--and in the case of Buckey and his mother, Peggy McMartin Buckey, their personal freedom. The Buckeys have been behind bars nearly two years.
The cost to defendant Peggy Ann Buckey, 29, for example, was "two months in jail, a good part of it in isolation, losing her job as a teacher of handicapped children--a career she had planned, prepared and studied for down the tube, and the cost of being daily in court, not being able to work or provide any income," said her attorney, Deputy Public Defender Forrest Latiner.
Latiner said the young woman owns nothing. "She and Virginia and her father (Charles Buckey, husband of defendant Peggy McMartin Buckey) are sharing a small apartment. With gallows humor, she told her mother, 'We can't bail you out, 'cause there's no room in the apartment for you.' "
Latiner said that although "there is no charge for my representation . . . the other emotional and financial costs are more than most people are asked to bear in a lifetime."
Defendant Peggy McMartin Buckey, who has been held without bail for nearly two years but whose bail was set this month at $1 million, is "basically indigent," according to her court-appointed attorney, Dean Gits. Her home and the school were sold to pay legal costs for her son and mother. The school property is now owned by defense attorney Daniel Davis.
"And how can you calculate the loss of freedom for almost two years?" Gits added.
School founder Virginia McMartin, 78, has lost "her life savings, her Manhattan Beach home, which was paid for, her interest in the property at the school, and all other assets," her attorney, Bradley W. Brunon, said. "But the intangible costs are greater: a daughter and grandchildren in prison or under a cloud of suspicion. The family has been through hell."
'Indigent for Months'