Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, sent a May 9th letter seeking an investigation to Anthony P. Sodroski, Disciplinary Counsel-in-Charge of the Disciplinary Board of the state Supreme Court.
In the letter, which he released to the press, Donohue stated, "What needs to be settled is whether someone from the office of D.A. Seth Williams will be receiving a referral fee for his work in connection with the 'Billy Doe' civil suit" against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia."
"You should know that we are pursuing other avenues of redress in this case," Donohue wrote Sodroski. "Never in my 20 years as president of the Catholic League have I seen a more egregious series of legal misconduct stemming from one case. All I am asking from you is cooperation in this particular matter."
A spokesman for the Disciplinary Board said it's office policy not to confirm or deny whether a complaint has been received.
The issue of whether someone in the district attorney's office may be receiving a referral fee for Billy Doe's civil suit against the archdiocese was first raised on Jan. 16th during the trial of Father Charles Engelhardt and Bernard Shero.
On cross-examination, Michael J. McGovern, attorney for Father Engelhardt, asked Billy Doe about who had lined him up with the civil attorney who filed the suit against the archdiocese.
"His name was given to us," Billy Doe replied.
"By another attorney?" McGovern asked.
"By the D.A.'s office," Billy Doe said.
"Who in the D.A.'s office gave you the name of a civil lawyer?" McGovern asked.
"I don't know," Doe replied. "It wasn't given to me."
"Who was it given to, your mom?"
"My parents," Doe said.
"Is it one of the prosecutors here?" McGovern asked.
"I cannot tell you," Doe replied. "It was not handed to me."
The D.A.'s office has repeatedly declined comment on the matter.
In a voice mail, Doe's civil lawyer said, "The D.A. had nothing to do" with the referral, and that it came from another lawyer who did not respond to a request for comment.
Samuel C. Stretton is a lawyer with offices in West Chester and Philadelphia who, over the past 30 years, has represented hundreds of lawyers in disciplinary proceedings; he also writes regularly on the subject of legal ethics.
"It's not wrong [for a district attorney] to suggest going to see a civil attorney," Stretton said. "It's not wrong to even suggest the names of multiple attorneys, Stretton said, although the best thing to do would have been for the district attorney to refer the victim to the local bar association.
"But if the district attorney got a referral fee that would be totally wrong," Stretton said. "Then you've got a vested interest in getting a conviction and you can no longer be the minister of justice that you're supposed to be."
The Catholic League, which bills itself as the "world's largest Catholic civil rights organization," has expressed an interest in the Engelhardt-Shero case, as well as the previous conviction of Msgr. William J. Lynn, and the plea bargain of former priest Edward V. Avery.
All four men are in jail as the result of District Attorney Seth Williams's self-described "historic" prosecution of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia
Avery is serving 2 1/2 to 5 years after pleading guilty on March 22, 2012 to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child, and conspiring with Msgr. Lynn to endanger the welfare of a child. The victim of both crimes was Billy Doe.
Avery's guilty plea preceded the June 22, 2012 conviction of Lynn on one count of endangering the welfare of a child, namely Doe. Lynn is now serving a 3 to 6 year sentence.
Engelhardt and Shero are in jail pending sentencing June 12. Engelhardt is facing a maximum sentence of 37 years; Shero, 57. Both men were convicted of sexually abusing Billy Doe.
"The Catholic League is not walking away from this issue," Donohue said in a statement released today. Donohue praised the "crackerjack reporting" on this blog, and said "the public has been kept in the dark on many aspects of what really happened to three Catholic priests and one Catholic layman. That is about to change. Stay tuned."