The judge assigned to preside over the upcoming clerical sex-abuse trial isn’t going anywhere.
Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina announced last Wednesday that she would not recuse herself from the trial of two priests and an ex-priest.
Defense attorneys had asked the judge to step away from the trial because they said she was predisposed against their client, Monsignor William Lynn. Their claim was based on a remark Sarmina had made during a Jan. 31 session that anyone who didn’t know of reports of a widespread sex-abuse scandal in the Catholic Church was living on another planet.
Sarmina last Wednesday said she had been misquoted by defense attorneys and in the press.
The judge said she and lawyers were working on what questions they would be allowed to ask prospective jurors in the trial of former priest Edward Avery, the Rev. James Brennan and Lynn. Avery and Brennan are accused of molesting minors. Lynn is charged with endangering children by not removing the others from active ministry.
During the Jan. 31 hearing on questions for jurors, a proceeding that Sarmina last week characterized as a work session, the atmosphere generally was professional, collegial, even friendly, in contrast to the “attorneys with attitude” aura that was briefly apparent at the Feb. 15 hearing.
On Jan. 31, Jeffrey Lindy, who represents Lynn, questioned the judge’s comment about the public’s awareness of a Catholic Church sex-abuse scandal. Sarmina countered that stories of the overall scandal within the church were widely known, and she cited other jurisdictions and countries in which those stories had surfaced. On Feb. 15, Lindy angrily took exception to Sarmina’s comment that he had misquoted her.
Soon after the Jan. 31 hearing, Lynn’s attorneys filed motions that asked the judge to recuse herself from the case.
Avery and Brennan are facing trial on charges they each molested a boy. Lynn, prosecutors said, investigated complaints against the men. Lynn, secretary for clergy under Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, is not charged with molesting minors, but with endangering children for allegedly making Avery and Brennan’s actions possible. His “willful blindness,” one assistant district attorney said last month, resulted in more children being molested.
Lynn, Brennan and Avery all have pleaded not guilty to charges that include conspiracy.
Lynn’s attorneys not only lost their bid for a new trial judge on Feb. 15, they also lost another attempt to sever their client’s trial from the proceedings, which are expected to start March 26.
Thomas Bergstrom, another of Lynn’s lawyers, maintained it was unfair for Lynn to be on trial when “awful evidence” against Avery is presented to jurors. Sarmina quickly brushed that aside.
During a discussion about two boxes of documents that prosecutors want to present as exhibits, Lindy got a little hot.
“Have we won a ruling in this case?” Lindy asked, his voice rising.
Sarmina said she hadn’t been keeping score.
Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington, also turning up the volume, said Lindy was acting like a petulant child.
Sarmina told attorneys she was willing to look at every piece of evidence that day and the next rather than have individual pieces objected to during the trial. Bergstrom suggested that defense attorneys have until Feb. 22 to go through the documents.
ldquo;I don’t expect you to agree to every piece of paper,” Sarmina said.
Avery, Brennan and Lynn were arrested in February 2011 along with the Rev. Charles Engelhardt, an Oblate of St. Francis DeSales, and former Catholic school teacher Bernard Shero. Engelhardt and Shero also have pleaded not guilty and will be tried in September.
The five men were arrested after release of a grand jury report that concluded an investigation of clergy sexual abuse within the city’s archdiocese. All were set to be tried together, but Shero’s attorney, and then Engelhardt’s attorney, argued for them to be tried later.
Jury selection is expected to begin this week. The judge said she wants to seat 22 jurors. The trial is scheduled to begin March 26 and is expected to last four months. ••EndFragment