Covering the trial for the Philadelphia Priest Abuse Trial Blog, Cipriano opined in a recent post that Judge M. Teresa Sarmina is "often mistaken for a member of the prosecution team."
Cipriano's reference is to the fact, ignored by others in the media, that it seems almost all of the judge's rulings have gone in the favor of the prosecution – and against the Catholic clergy.
A record of troubling statements and actions
Sarmina's fairness has been questioned before. As we have noted previously:
• On January 31 (before the trial), Sarmina declared in an open courtroom in front of Catholic priests and their defenders: "Anybody that doesn't think there is widespread sexual abuse within the Catholic Church is living on another planet." Not only was Sarmina's remark incredibly biased, but it was factually wrong, prompting a call from the Catholic League for the judge to step down. [Read More]
• Two days later, on April 25, Judge Sarmina questioned a witness in a manner more fit for a prosecutor by actually asking an accuser on the stand how alleged abuse affected his life personally. "Defense lawyers squirmed" upon hearing the question, reported Ralph Cipriano. [Read More]
• Most notably, on January 30, Judge Sarmina actually ruled that Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, the former archbishop of Philadelphia, was "competent" to give testimony at the important trial. Barely 36 hours after her ruling, the cardinal passed away in his sleep. The ailing prelate, at 88 years old, was practically hours away from dying of cancer and dementia, yet Sarmina ruled that this man should appear and testify in public at one of Philadelphia's most publicized trials in history. Unbelievable. [Read More]
There are more examples, but one gets the point.
One can also wonder if Sarmina is even an improvement over the first judge overseeing the clergy cases, the combustible Renée Cardwell Hughes. In pretrial hearings, Judge Hughes berated the defense attorneys for accused clergy, telling them to "Shut up and sit down" and addressing them as "baby." [Read More]
Indeed, if the clergy on trial are genuinely guilty of the crimes for which they are charged, they should be punished accordingly. But the bedrock of our justice system is that defendants receive a fair and honest trial.
Bravo to Cipriano for raising the question if this is happening in Philadelphia.