A Sidney man serving 50 years in prison for child rape has won an appeal before the state’s high court that will toss his conviction and get him a new trial.

Attorney’s for Eric L. Bard, now 28, argued in December that he deserved a new trial because a judge discussed the case with the prosecutor without the defense counsel present.

On Thursday, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court agreed with that argument.

“We are persuaded that Bard was deprived of the fair process to which he was entitled,” said the opinion published Thursday on the court’s website.

Gina Yamartino, his attorney, said Bard, who is being held at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, knows about the decision, and that she plans to meet with him Friday. She also said she is likely to seek bail for him.

“Every defendant has the right to an impartial judge at his trial,” Yamartino said in a prepared statement. “The court was persuaded that our client was deprived of the fair process to which he was entitled.”

The prosecutor in the case, Assistant Attorney General Paul Rucha, had asked the Law Court to keep Bard’s conviction intact.

Bard’s trial in August 2014 in Kennebec County Superior Court was cut short when he entered conditional guilty pleas to 11 charges of sexual exploitation of a minor, seven charges of gross sexual assault on a child under 12, two charges of unlawful sexual contact and one charge of assault.

The trial judge, Superior Court Justice Donald Marden, explained at the time that if the rulings by the Law Court indicated he was wrong in pre-trial decisions, Bard could withdraw his guilty pleas.

The offenses occurred from Dec. 1, 2011, to April 30, 2012, while Bard was baby-sitting the 4-year-old girl in Augusta. Investigators say he had befriended the child’s mother in 2010.

The investigation began when another mother seeking day care services for her child in May 2012 came across an ad on Craigslist offering to babysit, photograph and bathe children. She reported it to Maine State Police, who learned that Bard had placed the ad.

The Law Court’s decision dealt largely with the June 23, 2014, conversation between Marden and District Attorney Maeghan Maloney, whose office prosecuted the case.

Maloney could not be reached immediately for comment Thursday.

Transcripts of the meeting show the conversation centered on the release of an affidavit that had been impounded and calls by Maloney to agencies considering supervising Bard while he was free on bail. The judge had issued a gag order in the case a week or so earlier that prohibited attorneys, court personnel, potential witnesses and law enforcement officers from commenting on Bard’s case.

“Had the conversation at issue here occurred in the presence of defense counsel, with an opportunity for counsel to be heard on any of the factual or legal positions presented by the DA, the asserted claim of a due process violation would hold little merit,” the supreme court opinion said.

Betty Adams can be contacted at 621-5631 or at:

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