Neighborhood news in brief for the week of March 5

A buy­er is chosen for the Steph­en Douglas High School build­ing, an anti-SLAPP bill pro­gresses, and oth­er loc­al news in brief. 

Mari­time Academy Charter School chosen as buy­er for Douglas build­ing

The School Dis­trict of Phil­adelphia has chosen Mari­time Academy Charter School as the po­ten­tial buy­er for the former Steph­en Douglas High School build­ing in Port Rich­mond, the dis­trict an­nounced last Wed­nes­day.

The charter school has been leas­ing the build­ing and hold­ing its high school classes there since the school year began. Douglas closed in June 2013.

The dis­trict se­lec­ted the charter school as the buy­er in a com­pet­it­ive pro­cess that began late last year when the dis­trict is­sued a series of Re­quest for Qual­i­fic­a­tions for pur­chasers and re­ceived mul­tiple of­fers, ac­cord­ing to the dis­trict’s an­nounce­ment. 

An ad­vis­ory com­mit­tee, com­pris­ing rep­res­ent­at­ives from the dis­trict, the city, the Phil­adelphia In­dus­tri­al De­vel­op­ment Cor­por­a­tion and the Phil­adelphia Re­devel­op­ment Au­thor­ity, re­viewed the of­fers and made a re­com­mend­a­tion to the dis­trict. A short list of po­ten­tial buy­ers were in­ter­viewed in early Feb­ru­ary. The dis­trict held a com­munity meet­ing about the sale in Port Rich­mond on Wed­nes­day, Jan. 29. Mari­time will present a pro­pos­al to the School Re­form Com­mis­sion on March 20, pending ne­go­ti­ation, for fi­nal ap­prov­al, which will en­able the prop­erty to be sold in June. ••  

Hear­ing set for anti-SLAPP bill

The state Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee will hold a pub­lic hear­ing on state Sen. Larry Farnese’s anti-SLAPP le­gis­la­tion in April, Farnese (D-1st dist.) an­nounced last week.

Stra­tegic Law­suits Against Pub­lic Par­ti­cip­a­tion (“SLAPPs”) can be used to pre­vent civic or­gan­iz­a­tions and oth­ers from speak­ing out on a pub­lic is­sue by im­pos­ing the bur­den and cost of a leg­al de­fense on them. SLAPPs have what is known as a “chilling ef­fect” on free speech. Farnese’s bill, Sen­ate Bill 1095, would make it easi­er for those who are wrong­fully sued to have their cases dis­missed or re­cov­er at­tor­neys’ fees, ac­cord­ing to the pub­lic state­ment.

Sen. Mi­chael J. Stack (D-5th dist.) is a co-spon­sor of the bill. Farnese began work­ing on the bill last year when the in­creased threat of SLAPPs led to the dis­band­ing of the 40-year-old Old City Civic As­so­ci­ation.

“We need to make sure that people can have a strong voice on what takes place in their neigh­bor­hoods without be­ing si­lenced by the fear of a law­suit,” Farnese said in the state­ment.

Matt Ruben, pres­id­ent of North­ern Liber­ties Neigh­bors As­so­ci­ation, will testi­fy in fa­vor of the bill at the hear­ing. 

Twenty-sev­en states have anti-SLAPP laws, ac­cord­ing to Farnese. Pennsylvania passed lim­ited anti-SLAPP le­gis­la­tion in 2000 that ap­plies only to en­vir­on­ment­al law and reg­u­lat­ory pro­cesses. The hear­ing will take place on Thursday, April 24, at 9:30 a.m. at the Phil­adelphia Bar As­so­ci­ation, 1101 Mar­ket St. ••

Brides­burg priest’s tri­al be­gins

The jury tri­al has be­gun for the Rev. An­drew Mc­Cormick, former par­ish priest of St. John Can­ti­us in Brides­burg, who is ac­cused of sexu­ally as­sault­ing a 10-year-old al­tar boy in 1997.

The ac­cuser, now 26, gave a tear­ful testi­mony last week, ac­cord­ing to CBS Philly. In the testi­mony de­scribed by CBS Philly, the ac­cuser said Mc­Cormick re­cruited him to be an al­tar boy and then as­saul­ted him after an even­ing mass, ab­used him emo­tion­ally and said he was go­ing to hell for be­ing gay. He said he tried to com­mit sui­cide mul­tiple times the next year.

Mc­Cormick’s law­yers have ques­tioned the le­git­im­acy of the ac­cus­a­tion, say­ing only one per­son has ac­cused the priest of mo­lesta­tion dur­ing his 30 years as a priest, ac­cord­ing to NBC10.

An earli­er judge had found the al­leged ab­use did not meet the leg­al defin­i­tion of felony sexu­al as­sault, but Com­mon Pleas Judge Paula Patrick re­in­stated the charges in Oc­to­ber 2012, NBC10 said.

Mc­Cormick was sus­pen­ded from the Phil­adelphia arch­diocese when he was ar­res­ted in 2012 for a less ser­i­ous al­leg­a­tion, ac­cord­ing to 6ABC. ••

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