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'I'm Blunt,' Says Judge Who Outraged Feminists

May 11, 1986|MARK ARAX | Times Staff Writer

PASADENA — In a world where euphemisms often render language and truth meaningless, Judge Gilbert C. Alston sees himself as a kind of last outpost of blunt, unvarnished talk.

His refusal to sugar-coat or soften his language, even when it's for public consumption, has brought Alston his share of notoriety during six years on the Pasadena Superior Court bench. More recently, it has incited a protest over his decision two weeks ago to dismiss charges against a man accused of raping and sodomizing a prostitute.

In granting his own motion for a finding of not guilty, Alston characterized the case as a "breach of contract between a whore and trick."

Decision Widely Condemned

The legal reasoning behind the April 18 decision has been widely condemned by law school professors and women's rights groups throughout Southern California. Several organization directors have publicly called for Alston's removal. At least two filed complaints last week with the state Commission on Judicial Performance asking that the watchdog agency investigate Alston's conduct in the case and take appropriate disciplinary action.

Surprised by the reaction, Alston remains unchastened.

"I'm always attacked for my use of words that are perceived as wrong," said the 55-year-old judge. "I'm blunt. I deliberately avoid being tactful in certain situations.

"One of the problems of our society is that we're so wedded to euphemisms that you can't call a janitor a janitor anymore. You have to call him a building inspector.

"I don't believe in spoon-feeding the truth. The biggest euphemism we have today is the phrase substance abuser. They're not substance abusers. They're goddamned dope addicts. And put the 'goddamned' in there."

Asked if he regretted referring to the prostitute as a "whore" in open court, Alston rose from his desk and reached for the dictionary on the book shelf.

Perfectly Good Word

" Whore is a perfectly good English word," he said. "I'm not going to apologize for using it."

Alston's finding of not guilty in the rape and sodomy case against Daniel Zabuski, 25, of Alhambra came over the strong objections of the district attorney's office. Deputy Dist. Atty. JoAnne Barton, who prosecuted Zabuski, said Alston displayed bias against the prostitute throughout the proceedings, constantly referring to the 30-year-old woman as a "whore" during private deliberations with attorneys and allowing Zabuski's attorney to ask questions about her personal life.

Several jurors said they believed the prostitute, who testified in court that she was paid $30 to perform oral sex, but that Zabuski became violent when he was not satisfied and raped and sodomized her. They said they were angered by Alston's decision to take the case away from them and offended by his brusque language.

Prosecutors admit that the case could have gone either way and that Alston's dismissal of the charges would have generated little protest had it not been for his comments to the press after the trial.

Prostitutes Not Protected

In an interview with The Times after his decision, Alston said the law did not afford prostitutes protection against rape or sodomy if they had agreed to and were paid for a "lesser" act such as oral copulation. He said a man could force a woman prostitute to engage in sexual intercourse and sodomy without being criminally liable as long as he did not physically injure her.

The decision was attacked by several legal experts who said the law clearly holds that a prostitute can agree to one sexual act without implicitly consenting to all sexual acts.

"Experts can disagree if they want, but I'm the one who has to make the decision based on the facts before me," Alston said in a second interview with The Times last week. "An act of prostitution is an act of prostitution.

"My critics are trying to distinguish between oral copulation and sexual intercourse. But both are contracts for illegal services and the courts are not in the business of interpreting illegal contracts. The Penal Code simply does not distinguish between degrees of prostitution."

Call for Judge's Removal

In calling for Alston's removal, women's rights groups have criticized the judge for treating a sexual-abuse case as a matter of contract law. They said the judge's reasoning embraces the notion that a woman must be severely battered, mutilated or killed before sexual assault charges can be upheld.

"The implication of the judge's remarks is that not all women are entitled to the protection of the law from acts of rape and sodomy," said Gloria Allred, the feminist attorney who heads the Los Angeles-based Women's Equal Rights Legal Defense and Education Fund.

"The judge has, in effect, declared to all rapists that it is open season on prostitutes," Allred said. Such legal interpretation "opens the door to an investigation into the behavior, morals and sexual histories of every rape victim who files charges."

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