Support for former Exeter counselor is paralleled in other sex assault cases

  • Torbick

Monitor staff
Published: 8/11/2018 11:10:23 PM

Rarely do 23 educators and health professionals stand behind a convicted sex offender who repeatedly assaulted a freshman student she was counseling.

When former Exeter High School counselor Kristie Torbick received strong support at her sentencing last month, outrage boiled over in communities where educators and health professionals stepped out to share their personal opinions in court.

Torbick of Lee was a member of a professional community built to serve and protect children and victims of abuse – and that’s why the backlash following her sentencing was immediate. The case, however, did not mark totally uncharted territory for New Hampshire’s victim advocates.

For those working in the field more than a decade ago, they haven’t forgotten the sexual assault case against then-Rochester District Court Judge Franklin Jones.

Jones, 56, was arrested in 2004 for groping five women while he was drunk and making his way around a dance floor after a conference on domestic and sexual violence. The women worked as victim advocates in Jones’s courtroom.

That September, he struck a deal whereby he pleaded no contest to five counts of simple assault as opposed to sexual assault charges. In exchange for his plea, he was sentenced to serve a several-day stay at an alcohol treatment facility.

A judicial conduct committee concluded that Jones’s behavior “demeaned his judicial office and cast reasonable doubt in the eyes of the public on his continuing capacity to act in an impartial manner.” But not before nearly two dozen supporters – including prosecutors, law enforcement officials and a lawmaker – testified on his behalf at two hearings held by the committee. The victims and several of their supporters also testified.

“The case became divisive, and it split people, at least by job description, into groups. These people were supposed to be in positions of trust,” said Scott Hampton, a doctor of psychology who has worked with both perpetrators and victims of sexual and domestic violence for decades. “The whole system would have beaten itself alive if he’d gotten his job back.”

Jones resigned Jan. 26, 2005, the same day the committee ruled that his behavior should keep him off the bench forever.

More recently, a sexual assault case against a former child psychologist in Concord also turned heads with strong opinions on both sides of the bench.

Foad Afshar of Bow was convicted of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old patient during a therapy session in January 2015. However, a superior court judge later threw out his convictions after learning two jurors did not disclose their status as sexual assault victims during jury selection. The case is now under review by the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

At Afshar’s sentencing in August 2016, some 63 of his supporters squeezed into a Merrimack County courtroom wearing stickers that read “Justice for Foad” with a smiling photo of the defendant.

Among them was Michael Kandle, a psychologist and longtime friend of Afshar, who had created a website where people could go to learn about the case and offer their support.

Similarly, letters frequently dropped into the Monitor’s inbox calling people into action. One came from Roger Wicksman, a pediatrician at Concord Pediatrics, who urged people to “speak up and speak out” for Afshar. Another from a Henniker resident who said he knew little about the case, except for Wicksman’s letter, but that it seemed to him a judge had made an “egregious error, one that should be swiftly corrected.”

To this day, Afshar’s supporters show up by the dozens. And even when they cannot speak in court, their handmade signs share broadly their message.

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