Saturday, September 28, 2013

Defense Lawyer Rips D.A.

By Ralph Cipriano

A defense lawyer for Msgr. William J. Lynn has publicly accused District Attorney Seth Williams of professional misconduct.

In a letter hand-delivered on Friday, defense lawyer Thomas A. Bergstrom ripped the D.A. for teeing off on his client during a Thursday press conference about the arrest of another priest, Father Robert L. Brennan. The defense lawyer said he intends to report the D.A. to the state disciplinary board. A spokesperson for Williams did not respond to a request for comment.

At the press conference, D.A. Williams took the occasion to lambaste the monsignor, now in jail serving a 3 to 6 year sentence after his conviction last year on a charge of endangering the welfare of a child. But according to the district attorney, Lynn was also guilty of conspiring to keep abusive priests in active duty, so they could harm more children.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

D.A. Arrests Another Priest, But Won't Arrest Or Charge Msgr. Lynn

By Ralph Cipriano

District Attorney Seth Williams announced the arrest this morning of another Roman Catholic priest, charging Father Robert L. Brennan with rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and aggravated indecent assault.

Father Brennan, 75, a known abuser with 20 previous alleged victims, was charged with sexually assaulting an altar boy between 1998 and 2001, when the latest victim was between 11 and 14 years old. The altar boy was allegedly assaulted at Resurrection of Our Lord Parish in Northeast Philadelphia, where Father Brennan  served as assistant pastor. The crimes, according to the D.A., supposedly took place in the church sacristy, the priest's bedroom in the church rectory, a storage area on parish property, and in a movie theater.

The victim in this case, now 26, came forward in January 2013, six months after a jury convicted Msgr. William J. Lynn of endangering the welfare of a child. The D.A. said the latest victim was inspired by the Lynn verdict. Lynn was the first Catholic administrator in the country to go to jail for failing to adequately supervise sexually abusive priests. The allegations in the new arrest are eerily similar to the Billy Doe case.

Meanwhile, D.A. Williams used the press conference to again attack Msgr. Lynn for not reigning in abusive priests. But when push came to shove, Williams said his office had declined to indict Lynn on another child endangerment charge, because the crime in this latest case missed the statute of limitations by 3 months.

With that statement, the district attorney abruptly reversed the course of his self-described "historic" prosecution of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. In the original indictment of Msgr. Lynn, the D.A. missed the statute of limitations by 9 years in the case of one alleged 14-year-old victim, Mark Bukwowski, but that didn't stop Williams from prosecuting Lynn for endangering the welfare of a child. So why did the D.A. decline to indict Lynn this time?

If you listen to the lawyers on the other side of the Lynn case, the district attorney chickened out because he fears his conviction of the monsignor is about to be reversed by an appeals court.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Appellate Judges In Msgr. Lynn Case Ask Philly D.A. Some Questions He Can't Answer

Monsignor William J. Lynn
By Ralph Cipriano

In a sunlight-drenched courtroom this morning, a couple of state appellate judges asked the Philadelphia district attorney's office to explain the pretzel logic of its suspect prosecution of Msgr. William J. Lynn.

After four years of hiding behind a secret grand jury and multiple gag orders, the D.A. finally had to answer some tough questions during oral arguments in broad daylight. Seth Williams wasn't there, but his top appellate lawyer was. He responded with a litany of legal citations. But when the judges attempted to pin him down, the bottom line was, the D.A.'s office had no real answers. It's hard to explain the illogical and the politically expedient.

Msgr. Lynn is now serving a 3 to 6 year prison term for his June 22, 2012 conviction on one count of endangering the welfare of a child. Could the appellate judges be contemplating a ruling that might free the defendant? There was a moment today during the intense 40-minute hearing that quickened the pulse of every defense lawyer in the packed courtroom.

It came when John T. Bender, the president judge of the 15-member appellate court, asked defense lawyer Thomas A. Bergstrom how long his client had been in jail. It was a question that seemingly came out of nowhere. The answer was 15 months. But it left defense lawyers wondering whether the appellate court was sending a signal that it would entertain a new bail motion to be filed on behalf of Msgr. Lynn.

"I don't know what to do; I don't want to be precipitous," a smiling Bergstrom told reporters after the hearing. Bergstrom said he would wait until the court issues a ruling on the Lynn appeal. And if that ruling favors his client, Bergstrom said, he'll be filing that bail motion about "five minutes later."

Monday, September 16, 2013

Hell In A North Philadelphia Row House

By George Anastasia

Nine years later, Joe Finley still remembered.

Testifying at the racketeering-murder trial of drug kingpin Kaboni Savage back in April, Finley told a jury what he was thinking as he entered a burning row house in the 3200 block of North Sixth Street around 5 a.m. on Oct. 9, 2004.

"This is what hell looks like," the 28-year Philadelphia Fire Department veteran said.

"The whole room was like a way that I hope I never get to know. But it seemed like it was ... hell. That's what it would remind you of. It was like being in hell. The whole room had this eerie glow to it."

Finley was wearing protective, fire retardant bunker gear, an air pack and a mask and camera that allowed him to see images through the smoke and fire. A ladderman working out of the fire house at Front and Luzerne Streets, he was the first one through the door of the two-story house. His job was to look for people and hopefully bring them out alive.

When the first trucks arrived, he said, the house was fully involved.

"You rarely see them this bad," he told the jury. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

It's Deja Vu All Over Again In Mob Case

By George Anastasia

Same case.

Different jury.

And, the government hopes, a different result.

The ground work for the retrial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and his nephew, mobster George Borgesi, will be laid out tomorrow afternoon at a pre-trial hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Eduardo Robreno. The trial is scheduled to begin on Oct. 15 and last from six to eight weeks.

Tomorrow, Robreno will hear oral arguments on a series of pre-trial motions that will set the parameters for what literally will amount to a life or death struggle for Ligambi. The 73-year-old mob leader could face from 10 to 20 years in prison if convicted of the racketeering conspiracy charge that is at the heart of the case that remains against him.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Vince Fumo Takes His Case To The U.S. Supreme Court

By Ralph Cipriano

Vince Fumo may have already been convicted and done his time, but that hasn't stopped the former state senator from taking his case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Tuesday, Peter Goldberger, an appeals lawyer representing Fumo, filed a 42-page petition for a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court, requesting that it review lower court rulings involving Fumo.

The petition has three goals. First, Goldberger seeks to overturn Fumo's 2009 conviction on 137 counts because the trial judge, U.S. District Court Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter, refused to hold a hearing to determine whether the jurors who convicted Fumo had been exposed to prejudicial information.

Second, Goldberger asks the Supreme Court to return $3 million in restitution to Fumo, contending that the restitution award by Judge Buckwalter violated Fumo's constitutional rights. Finally, Goldberger contends that Judge Buckwalter didn't have the authority to make Fumo pay $366,279 in interest, as part of that restitution award of $3.8 million.

The petition to the U.S. Supreme Court is the legal equivalent of a Hail Mary. The nation's highest court gets about 8,000 such petitions every year for writs of certiorari, and every year, the court agrees to hear about 80 of these cases.


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