In a grudge match before the state Supreme Court, defense lawyers for Msgr. William J. Lynn will square off against District Attorney Seth Williams.
At stake is the freedom of Lynn, whose historic June 22, 2012 conviction on one count of endangering the welfare of a child was reversed on Dec. 26, 2013 by the state Superior Court.
Both the district attorney and Lynn's defense lawyers have filed briefs in anticipation of a yet-unscheduled hearing before the state's highest court. The district attorney began his 33-page filing on July 10th by charging that Lynn "was a high ranking Archdiocesan official specifically responsible for protecting children from pedophile priests."
"Instead, he relocated them, as part of a general scheme of concealment, in a manner that put additional children at risk of being sexually molested," the district attorney wrote. In reversing Lynn's conviction, "The Superior Court erred and should be reversed," concluded the brief filed by Chief of the D.A.'s Appeal Unit Hugh J. Burns Jr., Deputy District Attorney Ronald Eisenberg, First Assistant District Attorney Edward F. McCann Jr., and D.A. Seth Williams.
In their 55-page brief filed on Aug. 1st, defense lawyers Thomas A. Bergstrom and Allison Khaskelis, go on the attack, charging that the "Commonwealth's brief is replete with factual errors." The defense lawyers ripped the D.A.'s brief as an "unfair attempt to deflect this court's attention from the narrow issue actually before it," namely whether the state's original 1972 child endangerment law applied to Lynn. The defense lawyers further accuse the district attorney of "shrouding the narrow issue in a cloak of hysteria and emotions."
The "distortion" in the district attorney's brief "insults the integrity of the Superior Court," the defense lawyers wrote. The charge of endangering the welfare of a child [EWOC] did not apply to him [Lynn] as he was neither a parent, guardian nor other person supervising the welfare of a child or an accomplice to the EWOC committed by [former priest Edward V.] Avery," the defense lawyers wrote.
Lynn, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's former secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004, is currently on house arrest after his conviction was reversed. He was the first Catholic administrator in the country to be convicted in the clergy sex abuse scandal.
"Aware of the weakness of its position, the Commonwealth attempts to sway this Court's attention by introducing irrelevant facts distorted beyond recognition," the defense lawyers wrote. Contrary to what the district attorney wrote, Msgr. Lynn was "never charged with or convicted of reassigning pedophile priests under his control," the defense lawyers wrote. What Lynn was charged with was EWOC and conspiracy to commit EWOC.
The defense lawyers assert that the district attorney was attempting to mislead the Supreme Court by suggesting that former priest Avery was a pedophile priest reassigned "as part of a general scheme of concealment."
"The Commonwealth never established such a scheme during trial," the defense lawyers wrote.
This is true. The trial judge tossed one conspiracy to commit EWOC charge against Lynn and the jury found Lynn not guilty of a second conspiracy charge to commit EWOC.
Contrary to what the district attorney claims, former priest Avery was never diagnosed as a pedophile or with any sexual disorder, the defense lawyers wrote. Instead, Avery was diagnosed as an alcoholic.
"The time is ripe for this Court to put an end to the Commonwealth's deluded and contrived arguments once and for all," the defense lawyers wrote.
The state's 1972 child endangerment law said: "A parent, guardian or other person supervising the welfare of a child under 18 years of age commits a misdemeanor of the second degree if he knowingly endangers the welfare of a child by violating a duty of care, protection or support."
For nearly 40 years in Pennsylvania, that EWOC law was applied to an adult who had a relationship with a child, such as a parent, guardian or teacher who "knowingly endangers the welfare of a child."
The defense lawyers in their brief say they were unable to find "any other case in the history of Pennsylvania jurisprudence where a defendant has been charged" under the original EWOC statute who didn't have a "direct responsibility for the care of the child."
The law was amended in 2007 to include supervisors such as Lynn.
The defense lawyers began their brief with a mea culpa:
"The historical abuse by priests of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is well documented and beyond dispute," the defense lawyers wrote. "It represents horrific abuse of power and authority which has caused boundless pan and suffering."
"This brief in no way seeks to diminish or defend that reality, rather to defend a man who admittedly never abused a child and who was wrongfully covicted as a matter of law," the defense lawyers wrote.
"The Superior Court correctly reversed Msgr. Lynn's conviction, and this Court must uphold this decision," the defense lawyers conclude.