JIM CREES: In the halls of justice ...

“This is a court of law, young man, not a court of justice.” - Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

The indignant statement by one of the greatest American jurists became all too evident and real last week in Mecosta County.

In an astonishing turn of events, the legal system in Mecosta County basically allowed a man arrested on 11 counts involving criminal sexual conduct to virtually get away with his crimes. Virtually.

After being charged with two counts of felony first-degree criminal sexual conduct, six counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct with an accomplice and three counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct, Barryton area resident Jack Bark was allowed to plea no contest to one count of criminal sexual conduct fourth degree.

One drastically reduced count, and not even a full fledged guilty plea, but rather “no contest.”

Bark will serve 16 to 24 months in jail. It’s possible he could be home in eight months because of time served.

His accomplice in the frighteningly sordid and disgusting affair, Cathleen Martin, was also allowed to plead no contest to third-degree child abuse, an offense carrying a two-year maximum prison sentence.

She too will have to serve 16 to 24 months in prison as had been determined as part of the plea, and will have to register as a sex offender.

Now, just to be sure we all understand the situation, keep in mind that according to court documents at least one of the multiple victims in this case was “about 10 years old” when she was first sexually assaulted.

And there was more than one young victim.

Also keep in mind that according to testimony, Martin in effect supplied the girls to Bark; “prepared” them for his assaults and rapes; and comforted them during and after the assaults.

As reported in the Pioneer during court proceedings it was revealed “Martin knowingly continued to bring her children around a sexual predator, failing to protect them.”

A brief written by Mecosta County prosecutor Peter Jaklevic states the second victim testified in regards to Bark’s inappropriate touching and, “ ...with this testimony along with other evidence, demonstrates Bark’s conduct was no accident.”

And then a third victim “ ...was forced into frequent sexual acts which, according to Jaklevic, were coercive from someone she looked up to.”

Jaklevic wrote in his court bind-over briefing “Martin aided and abetted Bark by physically restraining the third victim while Bark sexually assaulted her, and psychologically manipulating the third victim both during and between acts of molestation.”

And yet, Bark was allowed to plead no contest to one count of fourth degree criminal sexual conduct — basically a charge of fondling his victims.

And Martin was allowed to plead no contest to one charge of child abuse - for allowing and assisting in the rape of the girls.

Not bad ... if you happen to be an abuser.

But no great shakes if you happen to be a victim.

If you’re an abuser having multiple times raped or physically abused a number of girls - not one - you get a year and four months in the slammer.

If you pimp the girls in your care to a sexual predator, you get basically the same sentence on one charge of child abuse to which you don’t even actually admit.

If you’re one of the girls, the victims, you can look forward to being brow beaten and lambasted in the public square by men — lawyers — who call you liars and try to prove to all and sundry that you are nothing but young sluts responsible for your own victimization.

The system simply reinforces that it is not the sexual predator or his sidekick’s fault, it’s the victims’ fault.

The perpetrators abuse young girls for years and get a smidgen of time in the county slammer — without ever facing trial or being sentenced as guilty.

The girls ... well ... apparently ... to Hell with them. As the great comedian Lenny Bruce once said, “In the Halls of Justice the only justice is in the halls.”

Judge Ron Nichols and prosecutor report they don’t want the girls to suffer through a trial.

I’m glad that was part of their declared consideration. I hope there was a serious sense of sincere compassion involved in this decision.

Still, the plea deal could have been a little more realistic.

With 11 original charges of much more serious nature, allowing a plea deal for a charge of CSC4 seems ... oddly forgiving.

But, hey, if you’re an abuser of young girls, or the sidekick of an abuser, you best stay in Mecosta County.

Don’t head for Osceola County.

Over there, a woman who had an inappropriate relationship with a 16-year old “boy” — a guy who refused during the trial to be called a victim, and who is ecstatically proud of his “conquest” — got three to 15 years in jail.

In Osceola County, the minimum sentence for criminal sexual conduct is more than the maximum sentence passed on a repeat abuser of pre-teen girls held down during the rape by their caretaker.

I simply don’t understand it. Still, why does it bother me one way or the other?

Well ...

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” — Elie Wiesel