Broitzman’s lawyer requests change of venue

Published 9:39 pm Thursday, June 24, 2010

The lawyer of 20-year-old Brianna Marie Broitzman, who faces charges of alleged abuse at Good Samaritan Society of Albert Lea, on Thursday requested a change of venue for his client’s upcoming trial. He argued that “irresponsible, continuous and massive publication” by the Albert Lea Tribune and negative reader comments online about the case have tainted the jury pool in Freeborn County.

Larry Maus, of Austin, said he thinks his client’s trial should be moved to “a neutral area.” He noted he does not think Broitzman can receive a fair trial in Freeborn County.

Broitzman, whose trial is slated to begin July 12, faces 11 charges including three counts of fifth-degree assault, six counts of criminal abuse by a caregiver, one count of disorderly conduct and one count of mandatory failure to report suspected abuse. The charges are in connection to alleged abuse at Good Samaritan Society of Albert Lea from January through May 2008.

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Broitzman is one of six who have been charged with the abuse. She and co-defendant Ashton Michelle Larson have been charged as adults, while the other four have been charged as juveniles because they were under 18 at the time of the alleged abuse.

Larson’s trial is scheduled to begin in August.

Since news of the allegations broke in August 2008, the case has gained notable attention not only on the local and state level, but on the national and international level as well.

But it’s the local newspaper, Maus argued, that has created a lot of negativity toward his client.

Reading aloud numerous online Tribune comments, Maus described the environment in Albert Lea concerning Broitzman as a witch-hunt.

He asked what the effect Tribune articles about the case have had on county residents. Do potential jurors have a preconceived idea of what Broitzman has or has not done?

He talked about how the elder abuse case was identified as a top story of the year during both 2008 and 2009 in the Tribune and questioned why this could be the case, considering other larger national or even international news.

Maus pointed out that the photos of Broitzman and Larson have been repeatedly printed in news articles, compared to the other four young women who were charged as juveniles. He asked why the newspaper printed Broitzman’s high school photo in its initial stories but has since switched over to the booking mug.

He also referred to a specific Tribune story in January of 2009, after Broitzman and Larson were arraigned on their charges.

That story was about a report from one area resident who had contacted authorities after she allegedly saw Broitzman and one of the co-defendants charged as a juvenile eating at the China Buffet restaurant after Broitzman’s arraignment.

This was of concern because conditions set for both Broitzman and Larson included no contact with any co-defendants in the case, whether they were charged as an adult or as a juvenile.

In the story, Albert Lea Police Chief Dwaine Winkels said officers interviewed the resident who reported the incident, along with two other people who were at the restaurant. The woman was not able to say she was 100 percent certain that Broitzman was at the restaurant, and the other two people said outright she was not at the restaurant, he said.

The end of the article states: “Winkels said violations of conditions happen more often than what people may think, but because ‘this is a high profile case and people saw what the conditions were, it’s very unique.’

“He said in his opinion some things going on in Albert Lea regarding this case have turned into a ‘witch-hunt.’”

Maus agreed. He said there seems to be “a hysteria” about the case in the Albert Lea community that will not simmer down.

The prosecution

Freeborn County Attorney Craig Nelson said his position is neutral on this matter, noting that he would leave it up to the court’s discretion.

Nelson said if a change of venue motion is approved, however, it would be an inconvenience for all of his witnesses. It would also be an expense to the state.

He also noted that at any given time there are 300 full- or part-time employees working at Good Samaritan Society and that many people are also somehow connected to a resident there.

Will their associations with the nursing home have an effect on a fair and impartial jury?

He said he had some concern about repetitious articles, and questioned if the reassertion of allegations results in the public believing they are the truth.

Regarding the comments on the Tribune’s website, he asked something similar. When do assertions or opinions become perceived fact?

Albert Lea Tribune Publisher Scott Schmeltzer issued the following statement: “I am saddened by the fact that Mr. Maus has decided to use the media as a scapegoat in his trial, as we are only the messenger. We did not make up the charges, but will report them as any news agency would.”

Freeborn County District Court Judge Steve Schwab said he could not issue an order on the motion during the hearing and that he would review the motion and other submitted materials and issue an order soon.

Look to the Tribune for Schwab’s order as it becomes available.

Related story:

Lawsuit filed in South Dakota against Good Samaritan Society

Lawsuit alleges ‘systemic failure to exercise proper supervision’
Lawsuit filed against Good Sam