Philly Trial Judge Betrays Impartiality Again? Where’s the Media? [w/ UPDATE: another eye-opener]

Teresa Sarmina

Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina

It would not be the first time that Judge Teresa Sarmina appeared to betray her duty of fairness while presiding at the high-profile Catholic clergy abuse trial in Philadelphia.

Today, with the jury out of the room, during a debate on whether additional accusers of a defrocked cleric should be permitted to testify at the trial, Judge Sarmina said the following:

"Sometimes, it just takes people a very long time before they can actually go public with this. It takes a lot of courage … I would not be surprised if there are not many, many more people out there who have chosen never to come forward."

Indeed, it is undeniable that it does take immense courage for clergy abuse victims to come forward and share their gut-wrenching stories.

However, for the judge to opine that there are "many, many more people out there" and imply that the veracity of each claim has already been firmly established appears inappropriate coming from the bench. Such a comment may also give the defense more grounds for an appeal at a later date.

It would be nice to see someone in the media make some observations about Sarmina's remarks.


[UPDATE, late 4/25/12: Ralph Cipriano over at the excellent Philadelphia Abuse Trial Blog has reported an interesting episode that occurred as a prosecution witness was completing his testimony that a priest had abused him. As the man was about to exit the stand, Judge Sarmina interjected and asked the accuser in front of the jury how the abuse had affected his life:

When the cross examination was through, after some 20 minutes, the witness was ready to leave the stand, but Judge M. Teresa Sarmina had a question, namely how had the abuse had affected his life.

While defense lawyers squirmed, the witness replied that the abuse had resulted in "a great deal of difficulty for me." He said his experience with Father Ed had a definite impact on his relationships with "older male figures." Basically, he had a hard time trusting them, he said.

For Sarmina to voice such a prejudiced and one-sided question in front of the jury should raise some eyebrows. It is most definitely the job of a jury to determine if such abuse actually occurred; and it certainly seems inappropriate for the presiding judge to ask a question that the prosecution could have asked.]

[UPDATE, 4/26/12: The next day (Thu., 4/26/12), John P. Martin at the Philadelphia Inquirer reported the same episode as follows:

The judge asked if the abuse had a lasting impact.

"It caused a great deal of doubt for me," he replied. "I'm still a practicing Catholic, my wife much more so than I. I have had a difficult time."

Again – it seems to have been a very inappropriate question coming from the presiding judge, who is supposed to present a position of impartiality.]


  1. kopride says:

    "Judge Teresa Sarmina is a Common Pleas Court Judge for Philadelphia County, a position she has held since 1998. She is a graduate of St. Mary’s College (South Bend, IN), of the University of Chicago, where she obtained a Masters Degree, and of the Georgetown University Law Center, where she obtained her Juris Doctorate degree."
    Your criticism of Judge Sarmina as being biased against catholics or the church is ridiculous. She went to St. Mary's and Georgetown and is a product of a very fine catholic education. Indeed, as a BC grad, you should have some respect for the catholic schools that are superior, I believe she went to St Mary's when ND was not coed and it was one of the finest catholic colleges for women; and Georgetown is the best catholic law school in the country.
    If Sarmina has any biases, they are not anti-religion. She is a former Philly  ADA under Rendell and worked in the state AG's office prosecuting drug and medicaid fraud. She also worked as a social worker in Chicago before she went to law school. As a trial judge, she was on the homicide team who are generally considered the best criminal trial judges in the city because most of their cases are reviewed by our appellate courts. She is known to be a very fair and demanding trial judge, not someone with a particular political agenda. She will in all liklihood retire a trial judge and has no political aspirations.
    Really,  your criticism of this trial judge is beyond the pale and inappropriate. Under PA practice, she is permitted to question witnesses. It is always disconcerting, but if the issue is delay in reporting an old crime, a question as to how it affected a victim's life is the way to probe that issue without prejudice to either side. If the judge says, "why didn't you report it earlier? Then it will look like the judge doesn't believe the witness and it would be inappropriate. If she says, is the delay in reporting related to your subsequent problems stemming from the abuse, it would prejudice the defense. IF in response to the judge's question was that the abuse did not really affect the victim, then there are arguments that can be made by the defense.
    And nobody should read anything into what a trial judge says to lawyers when the jury is out of the room. Sarmina knows the defense team very well, personally and professionially. As a homicide judge, she sees them all the time and they trade with each other all the time on their good will and integrity. This is the very elite team of the Philly defense bar, they regulalry try homicide and major cases in front of this judge. There is a lot of posturing back and forth with the judges and attorneys pretrial. The defense filed its motion, but there are far worse judges that they could have gotten, and they were not seriously trying to do anything but make a record.
    You know my opinion of you from Cipriani's blog. If you want to be a blockhead about the topic of priest abuse generally, I can't save you. But attacking a trial judge by name and picture who you don't know and accusing her of anti catholic bias, is where you cross the line from blockhead to propagandist.

    • says:

      Boy, kopride, you continue to outdo yourself in getting your facts wrong!

      1. Nowhere on the site do I say Sarmina is “anti-religion” or even “anti-Catholic.” You made that up. (What I do suggest is that she has betrayed her impartiality, and the plain facts, which you do not want to admit, have reasonable support for this position.)

      2. You say Sarmina is “not someone with a particular political agenda” and “has no political aspirations.” Yet she ran a very aggressive public campaign as a Democrat for Superior Court only a few years ago.

      3. You accuse me of “attacking” Sarmina for merely pointing out her own prejudiced words. You also suggest that I cannot criticize her because I “don’t know” her. That’s funny, because you don’t know me, yet that hasn’t stopped you from attacking me.

      And if you believe that questioning a witness about how alleged abuse has affected his life is “without prejudice to either side,” then I think you are truly delusional.

      We appreciate honest commentary and criticism at this site, but we do not appreciate people just making stuff up like you did.