Judge: No Way Church Officials Can Get Fair Trial

Associated Press, carried in Boston Herald
March 5, 2003

BOSTON - A Superior Court judge refused Wednesday to set a trial date for two civil lawsuits against the Boston archdiocese, saying relentless publicity in the sex abuse scandal has made it impossible for the church to be treated fairly.

Suffolk Superior Court Judge Constance Sweeney also warned she would consider moving the trial out of Middlesex County if the publicity continued at its current fevered pitch.

"I gave fair warning of this a year ago," she said. "I said I was going to monitor it. ... I was not born yesterday. The remarks are being made for purposes of influencing the outcome."

Sweeney's ruling came in lawsuits filed by two men who claim they were molested by the Rev. Paul Shanley at St. Jean's Parish in Newton when they were children.

Lawyers for Gregory Ford and Paul Busa asked for trial dates to be set; Ford was looking for the trial start in April while Busa was seeking a June date. On Wednesday, attorneys for the Boston archdiocese asked to delay the trial until October and to change the location.

Attorney Owen Todd, who represents the archdiocese, cited the press coverage, the repeated release of thousands of pages of church personnel files, the release of videotaped depositions by church officials and comments by attorneys for the alleged victims as reasons why a fair trial was impossible.

"Our clients cannot receive a fair and just trial by a jury in light of the media attention that has gone on for a year," Todd said.

But attorney Roderick MacLeish, who represents Ford and Busa, said a delay would traumatize the alleged victims.

Sweeney - who has taken a hard stand against the church in previous proceedings - said she agreed with Todd that a "charged" atmosphere surrounded the case, adding the publicity simply delays proceedings.

"The more a potential jury pool is subjected to extraneous influence, the longer it is going to take the case to get to trial," she said.

The next pretrial conference was set for the week of June 16.

"I also, at that time, will have the atmospheric temperature, the court's atmospheric temperature," Sweeney said.

Todd also criticized state Attorney General Thomas Reilly for criticizing church officials and talking about a grand jury investigation into possible criminal wrongdoing by archdiocesan officials.

Reilly's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

About 500 alleged sex abuse victims have filed claims against the archdiocese, accusing dozens of priests of molesting them as children.

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