19 March 2012
By John P. Martin, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia fought Monday to keep private 12 documents that could reveal how its lawyers advised church leaders to handle claims that priests were molesting children.
The records include correspondence between the lawyers and Msgr. William J. Lynn, the church official criminally charged over his alleged role in responding to abuse allegations in the 1990s. Most concern the “development of policy” by the archdiocese, its attorney, Robert Welsh, said during a Common Pleas Court hearing.
Welsh opposed a bid by Lynn’s lawyers to get copies of the documents. He asserted that they are protected by attorney-client privilege and that releasing them could hurt the archdiocese as it gears up to defend itself against a wave of lawsuits by alleged abuse victims.
The archdiocese “has a dog in the fight in the civil cases, and needs to protect its position,” Welsh told Judge M. Teresa Sarmina.
The arguments came during a hearing that offered a glimpse of courtroom strategies that may be used when Lynn’s landmark criminal trial – the first for a church official accused of covering up child sex-abuse – begins Monday:
Lynn, onetime secretary for clergy, pointing fingers at church lawyers and his superiors; his codefendants, former parish priests accused of molesting a boy, portraying their accusers as drug-addled criminals out to make a buck; and prosecutors fighting to limit attacks on witnesses and blunt defense attempts to confuse or distract jurors.
Sarmina reserved ruling on most of the matters, but she is expected to resolve them before trial opens. She has imposed a gag order barring the lawyers and defendants from discussing the case.
Much of the courtroom debate has involved a mountain of documentary evidence, including roughly 30,000 records the has archdiocese handed over to prosecutors and defenders in recent weeks.
The judge also has ordered church lawyers to be ready to turn over hundreds or thousands of pages from files that might ordinarily be protected by attorney-client privilege but that in certain circumstances could become admissible at trial. The 12 documents in dispute Monday were on such a list prepared by archdiocesan attorneys.
Welsh noted that Lynn is charged with child endangerment, one of the crimes in which state law prohibits defendants from arguing that they were acting under an attorney’s advice. He also argued that the materials at issue aren’t the kind that could prove Lynn’s innocence, one of the exceptions to the privilege rule.
Lynn’s lawyers, Thomas Bergstrom and Jeffrey Lindy, said that he wrote nine of the 12 memos in question when he worked in church administration and that it was unfair for the archdiocese to block his access to them days before trial.
Prosecutors Plan To Show ‘Diocese-Wide Policy’ In Priest Sex Abuse Case
20 March 20, 2012 5:54 AM
By Tony Hanson
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – While the unprecedented clergy abuse trial of former Monsignor William Lynn and two priests is set to begin Monday, the latest pre-trial hearing in the case makes clear the defendants won’t be the only ones on trial.
Two priests — one now defrocked — allegedly abused children, and Monsignor William Lynn is charged with endangering children by allowing these and other alleged predator priests to remain in ministry.
But, prosecutor Patrick Blessington said yesterday, they plan to present evidence showing there was “a diocese-wide policy that was criminal in nature.”
And the defense will attack the credibility of the accusers. Defense attorney Michael Wallace, who represents Edward Avery (now defrocked), has told the court the defense position is the incident alleged never happened. The allegations were fabricated by a troubled, drug abusing man who is out to make money and alleviate his own problems.
All three defendants have pleaded not guilty.