Supreme Court hears Bradley caseDefense attorney faces tough questions
Dover — Attorneys for convicted pedophile Earl Bradley again argued police exceeded the authority of their search warrant as they collected evidence against the pediatrician in oral arguments before Delaware Supreme Court.
A full court panel of five justices heard oral arguments Aug. 15 in Dover. A three-justice panel previously heard arguments June 13.
Public defender Robert Goff, seeking to have Bradley's conviction overturned, said Delaware State Police executed a bait-and-switch on the judge who had granted a search warrant for Bradley’s BayBees Pediatrics offices in Lewes. Goff maintained the defense argument that police, armed with a warrant authorizing them to search for eight medical files, exceeded the bounds of their authority in their search. He said video collected from computers in an outbuilding on the Bradley property should have been excluded from the trial.
Chancery Court Chancellor Leo Strine, filling in for Justice Randy Holland, who recused himself for unspecified reasons, immediately questioned Goff, positing that because police knew Bradley took digital photographs of his patients, it was not unreasonable for them to infer that digital images kept on Bradley’s computers could constitute medical-related files.
Strine said if a physician films any part of the treatment, it is a recorded record of the treatment of a patient, even if what is recorded is improper or criminal.
Strine asked Goff if Bradley, or any other physician, filmed a record of a patient as part of an appointment, does that not make the video part of a medical file?
Goff did not disagree; he argued police were not looking for medical files. He said they were looking for evidence of child pornography, which was not described in the warrant. He said there was no evidence that Bradley kept medical files in digital form.
Strine again jumped in, saying the affidavit of probable cause used to get the warrant mentions witnesses saying Bradley kept cameras all over the place and manipulated digital photographs of patients, which would corroborate that Bradley was abusing patients during appointments.
Goff said while that information was in the affidavit of probable cause, it was not in the warrant. He said police had tried to get a warrant to search for evidence of child pornography in 2008, but they didn’t get it. He said the 2009 search that led to Bradley’s arrest is what they wanted to do in 2008.
Goff argued that it was even questionable whether police had authority to go into black-and-white outbuilding where Bradley kept his office, commonly known as the checkerboard building. He said this was not a medical office where patients were seen or where medical files would be kept.
The checkerboard building is significant because it is where the first incriminating video of Bradley sexually assaulting a child was found, on a flash drive still plugged into Bradley’s computer.
Justice Henry duPont Ridgely said witnesses testified Bradley was seen taking children into the building. Strine said police knew Bradley kept photographs of patients in the office, so they could reasonably deduce medical files could be kept there.
Goff concluded his remarks saying the detective who found the incriminating video – Det. James Spillan – did not even know the names of the children whose medical files police were searching for.
Representing prosecutors, Chief of Appeals Paul Wallace told the court police did not overreach or exceed the bounds of the warrant.
Wallace said searching the checkerboard building was well within the scope of the warrant. Not only does the warrant mention a white outbuilding, but it also cites witnesses who said they saw Bradley taking kids in there, Wallace said. Witnesses also said Bradley worked out of the building, making it reasonable for police to assert records could be kept there.
Wallace said the warrant specified paper and digital files and that it was reasonable for police to expect Bradley to have kept files on a computer. He said in the first exam room police went into, they found a digital camera.
Wallace said the warrant was faithfully executed, which was unfortunate for Bradley and his business, but fortunate for everyone else.
The court announced no timetable for a ruling on Bradley's appeal.
The first round of arguments took place before a three-justice panel of Justices Carolyn Berger, Ridgely and Jack Jacobs. Shortly after that hearing, a full panel agreed to hear the appeal.
Much like the first hearing, the Aug. 16 hearing was attended primarily by attorneys and media. Members of only a few victim families attended.
A letter Bradley wrote from his jail cell to Chief Justice Myron Steele in late July was forwarded to Bradley’s attorneys, but it was not read into the record or acknowledged in court.
Bradley is serving 14 life sentences and 164 years in prison on 24 counts of rape, assault and sexual exploitation of a child against 86 children.