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.]