Judge tells archdiocese to prepare for Lynn trial

Posted: January 26, 2012

Will he say the lawyers made him do it? Did they?

The questions form a key subplot in the forthcoming trial of Msgr. William J. Lynn, the former Archdiocese of Philadelphia official accused of making decisions that enabled priests to sexually abuse children.

On Thursday, Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina took a step toward answering them. She ordered the archdiocese to be ready March 26, the first day of Lynn's conspiracy and child-endangerment trial, to turn over what could be hundreds or thousands of private records detailing Lynn's communications with church lawyers about sex-abuse claims between 1992 and 2004, when he was secretary for clergy.

"That gives you two full months to get it done," the judge told Robert E. Welsh, a lawyer for the archdiocese.

Lynn is accused of assigning the Rev. James J. Brennan and a former priest, Edward Avery, to parishes in the 1990s where each allegedly molested a boy. All three men have pleaded not guilty.

The complicated role of the church lawyers - now and when Lynn was the official responsible for assigning priests and investigating abuse claims against them - has flared more than once since his arrest in February.

The archdiocese is not a defendant, but is tied to the outcome of the case. The church is paying Lynn's legal fees - as a corporation pays for an employee sued over his job performance - while also pledging to cooperate with law enforcement inquiries into child sex abuse.

Prosecutors have been dubious. In court filings, they complained that the archdiocese and Welsh's firm, which in the fall replaced Stradley, Ronon, Stevens & Young L.L.P., have been slow to turn over records and have tried to silence priests who might be trial witnesses.

"They keep injecting themselves in the case, which is improper and may be obstructive," Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington told the judge Thursday.

Welsh disputed taking sides. "We are not a party to that battle," he said. But he signaled that the archdiocese might still fight to withhold medical and legal records it considered privileged.

Prosecutors told the judge they should be entitled to see the records, particularly if Lynn planned to testify that he was following the advice of the archdiocese's counsel. While Sarmina ordered the archdiocese to be prepared to turn over the records, it remained uncertain whether it would be forced to do so.

Lynn's lawyer, Jeffrey Lindy, called the request a thinly veiled attempt to identify the defense's trial strategy. Even then, he said, the monsignor had not yet decided if he would take the witness stand to rebut the charges.

Lindy also insisted there was no collusion, or even contact, between the lawyers for the archdiocese and Lynn.

"I don't care about the archdiocese," he said. "If we have to do something at the end of the day that hurts the archdiocese, we'll do that. If we have to do something at the end of the day that helps the archdiocese, we'll do that, too."

Contact staff writer John P. Martin at 214-854-4774, jmartin@phillynews.com, or @JPMartinInky on Twitter.

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