Controversial Sex Ruling Reversed
Nov. 24, 1998
CHICAGO (AP) _ An appeals court reversed the ruling of a Juvenile Court judge who cleared a father of charges he sexually abused his children and dismissed his actions as part of his Sicilian heritage.
All three judges on the Illinois Appellate Court said sexual gratification was inherent in the father's behavior, which could not be characterized as ``innocent, accidental or clinical.''
The appeals court also cited the mother's repeated orders of protection against her husband, and consistent descriptions of the abuse from the mother and both children.
In February, Judge Fe Fernandez agreed with the father's attorney, who said the man's upbringing could have led him to believe there was nothing wrong with ``tweaking'' his 10-year-old daughter's breasts and buttocks and his 8-year-old son's genitals.
Italian-American groups were appalled.
``Any suggestion whatsoever by anybody that perhaps culturally Italian people condone or advocate sexually abusing their children is an asinine proposition,'' said Joseph Cecela, general counsel for the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, an umbrella group for about 75 Italian clubs representing about 100,000 people.
Fernandez was transferred to Traffic Court and has received mentoring and sensitivity training.
The appellate court's ruling, issued Friday, means the father will no longer be allowed unsupervised visits with the children.
Defense lawyer John Gonnella disagreed with the appellate decision, saying he believed cultural differences contributed to the misunderstanding.
Anthony Scariano, a former Appellate Court judge and current president of the Sicilian American Cultural Association, said Fernandez was misled by Gonnella.
``The attorney needed a defense; the only defense he could think up was the Sicilian culture bit,'' Scariano said. ``He was absolutely wrong.''