|Sing it Charlie!|
It was billed as the last pre-trial hearing in the case of Msgr. William J. Lynn, before the lawyers were scheduled to pick a jury next month.
But today in court, Judge Gwendolyn Bright and the lawyers on both sides of the case spent as much time in the back room as they did in the courtroom.
When everyone emerged from the back room, there were hints that the retrial of Msgr. Lynn, scheduled to begin on May 15th, may be postponed indefinitely.
Instead of picking a jury on May 15th, Judge Bright said that she would hold a "status conference."
What could have delayed the retrial? With the judge imposing a nonsensical gag order on the proceedings, it's hard to figure. One side, or both sides might be appealing the judge's pretrial rulings. If so, instead of a retrial happening next month, it may be delayed for about a year. Or, that retrial may never happen at all.
Lynn, the former secretary for clergy at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1992 to 2004, was convicted at his original 2012 trial by a jury on one count of endangering the welfare of a child, a former altar boy identified by a grand jury as "Billy Doe."
But Lynn's conviction was overturned by the state Superior Court. The D.A., however, vowed to retry the case.
Lynn was accused of not properly supervising former priest Edward V. Avery, who just got out of jail after serving five years for sexually abusing the former altar boy whose real name is Danny Gallagher. The monsignor became the first Catholic administrator in the country to go to jail for allowing a priest to sexually abuse a child. But Gallagher's tales of abuse have since been revealed to be fake news.
What would be the subject of an appeal in the Lynn case? Today in court, the discussion on the record was about supplemental cases of sex abuse.
The prejudicial effect of all those supplemental cases was the reason why the state Superior Court overturned the Lynn conviction in 2016. The Superior Court said that Judge Sarmina's decision to allow in all those extra cases boiled down to putting Lynn on trial for the collectives sins of the church.
So, on the retrial, the prosecution asked for a dozen supplemental cases to be admitted as evidence. But Judge Bright told the prosecutors she wasn't "in the business of piling on." So the D.A. trimmed their wish list of supplemental cases to nine.
Judge Bright subsequently did some more trimming. Today, she informed the D.A.'s three assistant district attorneys in attendance that only three supplemental cases would be allowed in as evidence.
The D.A. could take an appeal on that decision by the judge. If they do, then Lynn's lawyer, Thomas A. Bergstrom, could go ahead and file a cross-appeal that he threatened to do previously, arguing that retrying Lynn amounts to double jeopardy.
Especially since Joseph Walsh, the lead detective in the Lynn case, came forward in January to testify about alleged prosecutorial misconduct in the case.
Walsh told Judge Bright that unbeknownst to the defense, he repeatedly questioned Danny Gallagher about factual discrepancies in his many different stories of abuse. And that Gallagher provided no answers, other to say that he was high on drugs. But Detective Walsh knew from other witnesses in the case, such as Gallagher's own father, and one of Gallagher's drug counselors, that Danny Gallagher wasn't high on drugs when he told his original fantastic tales of abuse, before he invented new tales that a grand jury accepted as gospel.
Walsh also told Judge Bright that when he told Assistant District Attorney Mariana Sorensen about all the discrepancies in the case, she replied, "You're killing my case."
Judge Bright responded by saying that indeed this was prosecutorial misconduct in the case serious enough to warrant a new trial for the defendant. But since the state Superior Court had already granted Msgr. Lynn a new trial, she was denying Bergstrom's motion to dismiss the case on the grounds of double jeopardy.
Maybe Bergstrom is rethinking that decision, especially if the D.A. decides to appeal the judge's ruling on supplemental sex abuse cases.
Today in court, Judge Bright told Bergstrom that another issue that he raised, presumably in the back room, would be taken care of at the May 15th status hearing.
Since neither side is allowed by the judge to talk to reporters, we're left to guess at what issue Bergstrom might have raised.
Bergstrom gave us a clue earlier this month when he went on a rampage after The Philadelphia Inquirer referred to his client in a photo caption as having been accused of sexual misconduct.
This wasn't true, and the newspaper subsequently printed a correction and issued an apology. But Bergstrom has threatened in emails to the newspaper to have one of its reporters barred from covering the retrial of Msgr. Lynn.
But now all of that may be moot.
If there is an appeal, and the retrial is delayed for another year, you have to wonder at this point whether it will ever happen.
Our crusading district attorney, Seth Williams, has legal problems of his own. Next month, he's scheduled to be tried on 23 federal felony counts of extortion, bribery, mail fraud and honest services fraud.
If Williams gets convicted and is on his way to jail, maybe down at the D.A.'s office, the passion for retrying the Lynn case disappears.
The defendant, after all, has already served 33 out of 36 months of his mandatory minimum sentence. Also the D.A.'s star witness, Danny Gallagher, has little incentive to leave his home in sunny Florida and come back to Philadelphia to testify against Lynn again, now that Gallagher has collected $5 million in a civil settlement from the archdiocese.
If Seth Williams is on his way to jail and Danny Gallagher is on an extended holiday, made possible by the generosity of Archbishop Charles "Checkbook Charlie" Chaput, maybe the retrial of Msgr. Lynn never happens.
But don't bother to ask Judge Bright about it, or any of the lawyers in the case. Because, thanks to a gag order from the judge, nobody can talk.
Instead, they're doing the public's business in the back room. And leaving the rest of us to guess what's going on. In a case that's been a national and international news story for the past six years.