Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Legal fees

Judge chastises priest over legal-bills plan
By David O'Reilly and Nancy Phillips

Inquirer Staff Writers

In court for the first time Monday on charges of sexual assault and child endangerment, four current or former priests and an ex-parochial schoolteacher watched the judge erupt in anger over one's plan to ask the Philadelphia Archdiocese to pay his legal fees if acquitted.

Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes said such an arrangement could compromise the Rev. James Brennan's interests.

"You may not receive fully objective advice, because someone else is paying your legal fees," she told him. "You may possess information about other people who are being charged that could benefit you and disadvantage others."

At one point, she ordered his attorney, A. Charles Peruto Jr., to sit and Brennan to rise. A slight man in a navy blue sweater and gray slacks, Brennan, 47, appeared nervous and uncertain as the judge questioned him about his legal bills.

The archdiocese later confirmed that Peruto had written to Cardinal Justin Rigali asking him to cover Brennan's legal costs. The answer, said spokeswoman Donna Farrell, was, "Absolutely not."

Hughes' outbursts punctuated an otherwise-tame pretrial hearing called to address prosecutors' request to skip a traditional hearing and go straight to trial.

The District Attorney's Office argued that the grand jury had already considered exhaustive testimony and other evidence, and determined that criminal charges were warranted. Defense attorneys countered that their clients have a right to confront their accusers and test their credibility.

Hughes deferred that decision to March 25.

In addition to Brennan, two priests, a defrocked priest, and the teacher face criminal charges at the recommendation of a grand jury, which blasted the archdiocese last month for harboring sexually abusive priests. The archdiocese has placed 24 priests on administrative leave since the report was made public early last month.

Of the five criminal cases, the one against Msgr. William J. Lynn marks the first time in the nation that a member of the Catholic hierarchy has been charged with child endangerment.

Secretary for clergy under Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua, Lynn, 60, is alleged to have enabled the abuse of two altar boys in the 1990s. Prosecutors say he put the boys in harm's way by recommending parish assignments for their abusers.

Through his lawyers, Thomas Bergstrom and Jeffrey Lindy, Lynn has denied any wrongdoing.

On Friday, the District Attorney's Office added conspiracy charges against Lynn and the others.

They include the Rev. Charles Engelhardt, 64, an Oblate priest; Edward Avery, 68, the defrocked priest; and Bernard Shero, 48, a former parochial schoolteacher, all charged with sodomizing or raping a 10-year-old altar boy at St. Jerome's Parish in Northeast Philadelphia in 1996.

Brennan is charged with raping a teenage boy in Chester County in 1998. He declined to comment as he left the courthouse.

His attorneys contend the charges against him should be dropped because the alleged assaults did not take place in Philadelphia. Assistant District Attorney Evangelia Manos countered that the Chester County prosecutor had given her office permission to try the case.

On Monday, in a courtroom packed with nearly two dozen journalists, a half-dozen priests in clerical garb, and advocates for victims, Brennan surprised the judge twice.

In addition to his legal-fee plan, he showed up with Peruto and co-counsel Richard DeSipio. Earlier, he had told the judge he had no money to pay for a lawyer.

"You lied to me when you told me you had no money?" Hughes asked, her voice rising. She then ordered Brennan to reimburse the Philadelphia courts for the cost of the court-appointed lawyer who represented him before the grand jury.

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