Judge in priest sex-abuse case is staying put


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. ••


You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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