Hearing Set on Request for Judge's Removal
July 3, 2006

Montpelier, Vt. --Lawyers for Vermont's Roman Catholic Diocese and people suing the church for alleged sexual abuse by priests are set to argue this week over whether the judge in the case should be removed.

The diocese asked that Chittenden County Superior Court Judge Ben Joseph be removed from hearing more abuse cases after he issued a series of ruling adverse to the diocese in connection with one of the cases in April.

David Cleary, the church's lawyer, said he particularly objected to Joseph's lifting of a gag order after the church reached a $985,000 settlement with a South Burlington man, a move that prompted extensive news coverage.

The release of details in the case involving retired priest Edward Paquette will make it difficult for the church to get a fair trial in 15 more suits alleging he abused boys while serving in parishes in Burlington, Montpelier and Rutland in the 1970s, Cleary said. Two other former priests also have been named as abusers in one suit each.

Jerome O'Neill, a lawyer for people suing the diocese, wrote in court papers that the church was engaged in a "campaign of intimidation" designed "to interfere with judicial independence."

"No court should permit this blatant attempt by the diocese to find a judge more to its liking, or, perhaps more realistically, one it can intimidate by spurious motions into ruling favorably for it," O'Neill wrote.

Joseph responded to the church's request that he step aside from more abuse cases by forwarding the request to Judge Amy Davenport, the chief administrative judge for the Vermont judiciary.

She has scheduled a hearing for 1 p.m. Wednesday to hear the matter in Washington County Superior Court in Montpelier. Davenport could rule on the question Wednesday or wait and issue a written opinion later.


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