Reprinted with permission from yesterday's National Catholic Reporter.
By RALPH CIPRIANO
PHILADELPHIA — Defense lawyers for a priest and a Catholic school teacher convicted of raping a former altar boy claim that prosecutors didn’t tell them about a witness who would have bolstered the testimony of a key defense witness and called into question the accuser’s credibility.
Claiming prosecutorial misconduct, defense lawyers are seeking a new trial because they charge that prosecutors violated Brady v. Maryland, a landmark 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that says prosecutors can’t withhold “exculpatory evidence” that could clear a defendant.
In a strange twist that confounds legal experts, the court ordered the filings to be sealed.
The charge of prosecutorial misconduct is in an application to amend the appellant brief filed July 9 in Pennsylvania Superior Court by Burton A. Rose, a lawyer for former teacher Bernard Shero. Michael J. McGovern, who is also seeking a new trial for his client, Fr. Charles Engelhardt, filed the same application to amend on July 10.
The same day, the district attorney's office asked the court to seal the records in the cases. On July 29, the dockets in both cases recorded that the seal was granted, but no reason was stated regarding why.
“That’s a very extraordinary remedy,” said Alan J. Tauber, a former defense lawyer for Msgr. William J. Lynn, who was also sent to jail because of accusations from the same former altar boy. “I don’t know what basis they would have to put this under seal.”
A spokesman for the district attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment.