Blind Justice?
An Attorney Claims Improper Communication between a Judge and the Albany Diocese

Albany Times Union [Albany NY]
March 13, 2003

First it was what had every appearance of a gag order against the lawyers in cases involving sexual abuse claims against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany. Now it's suggestions of confidential, which is to say improper, communication between the judge and the diocese.

What's going on in state Supreme Court Justice Joseph Teresi's courtroom?

Judge Teresi is supposed to be presiding over cases filed on behalf of victims of sexual abuse by diocesan priests. Acting, that is, as the ultimate arbiter of fair and impartial justice. He's not supposed to be an interested party.

The lawyer for several plaintiffs, however, says the judge has become just that. The argument made by John Aretakis can't be so readily dismissed.

In papers filed Monday in the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court, Mr. Aretakis suggested that the material that led to Judge Teresi's Feb. 10 imposition of a "strict cautionary" in these cases may have come from the diocese itself. Specifically, Mr. Aretakis pointed to a pile of news articles that the judge cited in warning attorneys against making public statements, out of concern that potential jurors might be prejudiced.

It's Mr. Aretakis' contention, based on handwriting and computer coding that appears on the copies, that the diocese was the source of the articles, and without his prior knowledge. The diocese counters that it's done nothing improper.

What Mr. Aretakis is alleging would constitute what's known as ex parte, or private, communications with a judge. In plain language, that's usually quite serious, for it would leave one side, in this case Mr. Aretakis' side, in the dark.

So serious, in fact, that there's valid reason to wonder if the cases should go any further until the matter of possible ex parte communication can be explored further.

It's worth noting that Judge Teresi's cautionary wasn't formally requested by lawyers on either side, not for the diocese and not for the victims. That makes it fair to ask whether it was privately sought by the diocese -- and without Mr. Aretakis being able to respond in open court.

Perhaps Judge Teresi has no bias in this case. Mr. Aretakis thinks he does, however, and offers his reasons why.

Mr. Aretakis has gone so far as to ask the appeals court to review Judge Teresi's decision not to recuse himself. His latest argument is a compelling one, too, even more so than his earlier concern that as a devout Catholic, the judge can't be impartial, or our previously stated concern that silencing lawyers poses a threat to justice.

Judge Teresi should either explain himself, or else step aside.

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