Diocese's Lawyer Explains Contact with Judge

By Jill Bryce
Daily Gazette [Albany NY]
March 19, 2003

ALBANY - An attorney for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany provided news articles concerning the diocese to state Supreme Court Judge Joseph C. Teresi, who was overseeing three lawsuits against the diocese before he asked to be removed from the cases.

Attorney Michael L. Costello of the law firm Tobin and Dempf filed a nine-page motion in the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court on Monday. In it he acknowledged he was in communication with Teresi. "After the assignment of Justice Teresi . . . I received a telephone request initiated by the court for copies of news articles. The request was specific and limited to news articles that had been published. There was no discussion by the court regarding the purpose of the request or intended use of the articles," Costello wrote.

Costello filed the papers in response to attorney John Aretakis' request to have Teresi removed from the lawsuits.

Aretakis said there was inappropriate, even secret communication between Teresi and the diocese. He also said Teresi may be biased because he is a devout Catholic and his wife is a teacher at a Catholic school.

Several days later, Teresi asked to be removed from the case and said he had become the "public focus of the cases."

"Its unfortunate that the diocese and its attorneys are placing all the blame in these matters on the judge [Teresi]," Aretakis said Tuesday in response to Costello's motion.

Aretakis represents a dozen Capital Region residents who claim they were abused by clergy in the Albany diocese.

Teresi was assigned to the three lawsuits against the diocese Jan. 31, 2003.

In his papers filed with the Appellate Division, Costello does not specify dates when he was contacted by the court or when he supplied the newspaper articles.

"In compliance with the court's request, news articles were copied and provided to the court. . . . The sources of the news articles submitted were clipped or downloaded from media websites and copies of articles provided by clients including the diocese," wrote Costello.

Costello said that other than the response to the request of Teresi, he and diocese representatives did not forward any news articles or documents to the court.

Costello also wrote that the court's request for news articles did not provide a "procedural or tactical advantage to any party."

Disciplinary codes do not allow judges and lawyers to communicate privately with each other on pending legal issues.

After Aretakis filed his motions last week, the diocese issued a brief statement saying the diocese attorneys had conducted themselves appropriately throughout proceedings.

The nine-page motion filed by Costello does not include affidavits or statements from Bishop Howard Hubbard, the Rev. Kenneth Doyle or diocese spokesman Ken Goldfarb. It does not specify when the court contacted Costello seeking the newspaper articles.

Goldfarb said Tuesday he had not seen the motion filed by Costello and he also said he did not have specific dates for when Teresi contacted the diocese requesting the articles. "The papers speak for themselves," Goldfarb said.

The motion seeking Teresi's removal stems from a lawsuit filed Oct. 8, 2002, against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany and the Rev. John Bertolucci, former pastor at St. Ambrose in Latham, who has since been removed from ministry.

Other diocese representatives named in the suit include Doyle; Sister Anne Bryan Smollin, a counselor in the diocese; Hubbard; Theresa F. Rodrigues, a diocese psychologist; and the Albany Diocese Misconduct Panel.

Judge Thomas McNamara was first assigned to the cases Dec. 7, but recused himself Jan. 30. McNamara would not say publicly why he wanted to be removed.

The cases were reassigned to Teresi on Jan. 31.

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