Height of Hypocrisy: Philly D.A.’s Office Fights Open Records Request By TheMediaReport.com

Philadelphia D.A. Seth Williams

Accountability? Transparency? Philly D.A. Seth Williams fights a lawful open records request

The Philadelphia clergy abuse trial this past year was historic, but not just for the conviction of Msgr. William Lynn for the mistakes he made back in the 1990s.

After ten years of investigations and three grand juries, the only jury conviction so far is just a single, third-degree felony. (And now we know there are serious questions about the case.)

Has so much ever returned so little? TheMediaReport.com wants to know. That's why we recently filed a public records request with the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office (DAO) in accordance with Pennsylvania's open records statute, the "Right-to-Know Law" (RTKL).

Our request:

"All documents, in electronic format or otherwise, which reflect, refer or in any way relate to the staff members of the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office assigned to the prosecutions of Msgr. William J. Lynn (CP-51-CR-0003530-2011) and Edward V. Avery (CP-51-CR-0003527-2011), including but not limited to attorneys, paralegals, investigators, and support staff. Also records related to the salaries and benefits of all such assigned staff."

The request is pretty straightforward: We seek the request of records which would result in us lawfully determining how many attorneys, investigators, and other staff worked on the prosecution of the above Catholic clergy. [Read a copy of our actual request.]

The Philly DAO's opposition

The Philly DAO ignored our request, which resulted, according to Pennsylvania law, in a "deemed denial" (it was the second request we had filed), so we filed an appeal with the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records.

Last week, the DAO authored a declaration "in opposition to" our appeal. [Read a copy of the DAO declaration.]

In brief, the DAO's declaration consisted of a red herring and a healthy dose of contradictory information:

1. The DAO wrote, "The DAO does not maintain records detailing which Assistant District Attorneys are assigned to specific cases and the salaries and benefits that such District Attorneys earn while assigned to their cases" (emphasis added).

But we did not ask for what DA's make during their assigned cases. We simply asked for the staffing records for the cases we cited and what these person's regular salaries are.

The DAO adds that "[The DA's] salaries are not tied to any particular case on which they are working." Yes, and we already knew that, as we basically stated in our request and appeal.

2. The DAO wrote that it "does not possess any records responsive to [the] request," but it then claims in the very next paragraph that our request is so "vague," that our request "could implicate a whole host of documents that relate to the number of staff members who worked, in whole or in part, on … thousands of other cases on which these staff members have worked."

See the contradiction? After saying they "do not possess" the records we are seeking, they then say that they have "a whole host of documents" with the very records we are requesting!

We plan to file a response to the DAO's filing by Friday's deadline.

"Do as I say, not as I do"

The hypocrisy of this episode is glaring. While endlessly demanding "transparency" from Catholic Church officials when it comes to documents, the Philly D.A.'s Office now fights off a demand for its own transparency.

(By the way, the excellent Ralph Cipriano reported that there were seven Assistant D.A.'s in the coutroom during Msgr. Lynn's trial and that there were seven Assistant D.A.'s who questioned Msgr. Lynn during the grand jury hearings. We seek documents which would show this, and more.)

If there are any Pennsylvania legal experts who would like to offer us some pro bono suggestions, we would surely welcome them.


  1. John Joseph says:

    so typical of Philadelphia courts

  2. Publion says:

    Just read this and I only have a few minutes free just now. My deepest congratulations to TMR on this effort.
    I suspect that the DA doesn’t want taxpayers to see just how much money and resources went into this (including bringing in a PA Attorney-General’s office attorney (Blessington) to oversee the whole thing. Especially also since Blessington was ostensibly brought in to spear-head a general anti-corruption program that the DA claimed required outside leadership since the city of Philly was so wracked with corruption that he couldn’t rely on his staff and his own authority as Philly DA. And how many other anti-corruption initiatives has Blessington spear-headed? Or does the Philly DA now fear – rightly, I think – that it will become clear that the only worthwhile anti-corruption initiative he thought was worth pursuing was the Lynn matter?
    Which might lead Philly taxpayers to realize that millions in public monies were spent merely to get at Lynn to get at the Church, with so little result. And for whatever purposes. I’d say – and the point was also made at some point back there on the Philly comments site by somebody – that this whole Philly thing reeks of political game-playing to somehow ‘play to the bases’. The Philly taxpayers were dragooned into paying for the game.
    And the result? Here is what has been trumpeted as a world-class legal and prosecutorial ‘success’, and it has – to use JFK’s imagery – “no father”. Instead, the DA is trying every trick in the book to avoid having to explain how he did it or what it cost to do it. In politics, such denial of paternity means that there is something going on. A ‘cover-up’,  perhaps?
    Ah, but let’s not forget Clohessy’s Law: when you’re fighting the Church, you can’t be expected to remain honest and truthful; your Good intentions are all you need; the rest is mere abstraction. Come to think of it, that was Bush-Cheney’s explanation of how you could walk on the dark side and not yourself become dark: because you have Good intentions and because if you are fighting (what you have already assured yourself is) Evil, then you yourself must automatically and by definition be Good.
    That’s how Cartoons work, right?

    • jim robertson says:

      Why for what reason would a single D.A. go after the Church? Who does it benefit? What victory in German Religionist Pennsylvania, would be served? I don't think you'd be the first case against a hierarch, even a Monsiegnor, if you weren't pretty well sussed. This seems too easy a bust. Who could be this stupid? Makes no sense to me.

  3. It comes as no surprise that the Philly DA is opposing this legitimate request. If you were the NY Times out for another lynching of the Catholic Church there would be no such opposition. The Philly DA's office has a responsibility toward justice in a public venue.  It is funded by tax-payer dollars, and it is not funded for the proliferation of a point of view. The resistance to having this case more thoroughly examined is quite similar to David Clohessy's resistance to having SNAP records publicly examined.  But this also points to a larger problem: that of prosecutors who see their job as getting and keeping convictions rather than promoting justice. Please do stay the course on this.

  4. Publion says:

    If one were to follow the thread of comments to articles and throughout the series of articles on this site, one would come across – among other things – some extended comments I have made explaining the political pressures and forces that I think are currently operative on individual DA’s and I won’t repeat them here (there are at least 10 pages worth of them, in Word document format). And then there’s the DA out in Santa Clara County, as well as the one in Philly, and there are substantial comments on the political possibilities there as well.
    But it’s worth pointing out another instance of Cartoon-thinking. While the image of rural Pennsylvania’s Amish is well-established in the national iconography, Philadelphia is not in rural Pennsylvania but is rather the largest city in that state and has a substantial Catholic history.
    If my thoughts about the politics are even modestly accurate, then the DA is hardly “stupid”. He is surfing waves of political pressure and hoping to make some hay for himself by doing the bidding of those larger political forces. And at this point, being called on it publicly, he now has to try to avoid the consequences of his machinations. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.
    Without some substantial thinking and sustained focus and attention, there are so very many matters in life and history that won’t make sense. It goes with the territory.

  5. jim robertson says:

    Quit defining focus and attention for other people please. Since you pay none of my bills I don't wish to be denegrated by you since you aint the boss of me. as a matter of fact even had you paid my bills and were my boss, I still would not suffer such behavior. Thank you very much.
    Also wouldn't you say one of the largest if not the largest political force in Pennsylvania is the Catholic Church? What makes you think they play fairly?

  6. Publion says:

    There is a difference between "defining" focus/attention and noting the obvious lack of it. And how one can possibly "define" it for anybody else is a magical fantasy beyond me.
    The rest of that that paragraph need only be left where it was put.
    In regard to the second paragraph, four points.
    First, I would imagine that the "political force" of the Catholic Church in Philadelphia at this point is hardly what it was half a century ago.
    Second, even if the Catholic Church were a still-robust political force in Philadelphia, there is no rational way to connect its putative influence with somehow creating or supporting the very campaign against it.
    Third, are we to infer that whatever the Philly DA did was acceptable because the Church is conveniently presumed to not play fairly? There are two huge gaps in that position: a) that the prosecution is justified in acting unfairly if the accused might be imagined to have acted unfairly; b) that the accused acted or acts unfairly. To support (a) is to lethally undermine the rule of law as it is conceived in the Constitution. To assert (b) in this case, you'd need to demonstrate with evidence.
    Fourth, the pushback to the Philly trial at this point is not coming so much from the Church as from elements concerned for the integrity of the justice system and elements concerned for the expenditure of very extensive sums of public money. And this is a watershed development of no small proportions, I would say: thanks to the highly-publicized trial, increasing numbers of citizens are coming to realize just what highly dubious and very expensive gambits have to be committed by the government in order to Keep this Ball Rolling.

    • jim robertson says:

      Your last sentence explains my point most clearly. Imagine a counter intelligence group dedicated to making citizens no longer believe victims and flee expensive prosecutions by D.A.s. Who would benefit from that? the Church of course. To pretend things are always as they appear to be can after Viet Nam and Iraq be a foolish position to hold. Trillions spent Thousands of lives for what LIES. Machiavelli and Jesus were poles apart. Who do you see of those 2 "faiths" run the Church? It aint JC.
      Your third point was never my analysis so you also can wax a bit.

  7. Publion says:

    As always, mimicry seems to be presumably a substitute for actual thought. Which stems from the same source: the mistaking of Appearance for Substance and the presumption that the two are essentially interchangeable.
    What connection is there between my last sentence and the bit about “a counter intelligence group dedicated to making citizens no longer believe victims and flee expensive prosecutions by D.A.s”? Are you suggesting that there is such a group? How would you go about distinguishing evidence of such a group’s activities from evidence that the public had finally started to see through a scam perpetrated on it? Or are you suggesting by that “of course” that since you have created a fantasy cartoon of a counter-intelligence organization designed to serve the Church’s purpose, that therefore you have proven its existence?  
    Are you suggesting that people can be “made” (rather than rationally convinced and persuaded) to adopt a position? Do you recognize the difference between manipulation of public opinion and rationally persuading public opinion? Or are those too interchangeable projects?
    And of what relevance is the whole bit about “believe victims”? Legal process is not a matter of picking or choosing what to believe, but of examining evidence presented. Nor is rational analysis and deliberation a matter of a popularity contest but rather a matter of looking at the evidence to see if it stands up. If there is evidence, let it be presented. People don’t have to be tricked or stampeded into examining evidence. (Consider the Philly trial in that regard.) Legal process is not simply a stuffier version of the old ‘Queen For A Day’ show with everybody waiting to see how the audience applause-meter registers.
    Precisely what appearances am I supposed to be presuming to be true? And couldn’t the same principle equally be applied to victim ‘stories’? Let the evidence stand on its own and there is then no need for trying to manipulate people into ‘believing’ or not.
    My third point – perhaps it escaped notice in your analysis before you hit the keyboard – deals with and even directly references your point about “the Church” and whether it does “play fairly”.

  8. jim robertson says:

    You really are difficult not because your so smart but because you don't read. If a jew escaped from a death camp in the '40's and told you what had happened to him you'd be asking him/her: What are you trying to get out of this? (When my highschool friend Tom reported my being abused to the dean of students in '63 the dean said:"What are you trying to do, cause trouble?" That was his response to a child being harmed.)
      I Showed you in Tom Doyle's own words (if you bothered to look) his plan submitted to the National conference of Catholic bishops on how to control damages to the Church in this scandal. He wrote it in his own book.
    If you add my and other victims' experiences with SNAP it spells counter-intelligence. In case you don't know what that means, counter intelligence means going against what one perceives and is presented to be true.i.e. SNAP is working for victims and the Philly D.A. was working to have a just case against Finn.
    Exactly at what point in history did you miss political people including priests and D.A.s not necessarily telling the truth? Forget the Gulf of Tonkien incident? The burning of the Rieshtag? Watergate? on ad-infinitum. I would also bet that more Pols and Priests tell more lies than the average citizen. How many sexualy straight men,( the vast majority of victims,) would fabricate for years at a time a false accusation and be in any position,(like time with an accused perp) that would appear credible for what 20,000 dollars? Percentile of false claims? less than 3%.

    • jim robertson says:

      Here's what escaped my notice about your third point. Nothing. Talking about a Church that has controlled a large part of the planet over the past 2000 years playing fairly is absurd. They do if it's easy for them to do.
      Remember the Catholic slaveholders? How long did it take before the Church condemened slavery?????
      Hell the slaughters in Rome at the colliseum (spelling sorry) didn't end till a couple of hundred years into the christian reign.
      Do you think there would have been a Protestant reformation if the Church had been "playing fairly" ?
      Wake up. Please.

    • TheMediaReport.com says:
  9. jim robertson says:

    Okay Dave, I feel like I'm in 2001 the movie. What percent and from what source do you claim to be false accusations?

  10. Publion says:

    My my, I don’t read.
    And again with an inapplicable historical reference. I would ask for evidence, just as the West did when first advised that what we now call the Holocaust – so utterly unimaginable to the world of that era – was taking place. Which is exactly what happened back then. It took a while to accumulate the evidence, but when it came it was plentiful and undeniable.
    In the matter of ‘victims’ nowadays, there is rarely any such quantity of undeniable evidence. Additionally, there is plentiful evidence that nowadays in the Catholic abuse Matter persons willing to go the tort-attorney route have collected hundreds of millions without any serious examination of their claims. So under the circumstances of a pre-existing reservoir of clear evidence of emolument – which precisely does not exist in the Holocaust example – then Yes, I am going to be skeptical until sufficient evidence is produced. Is there some illogic to that?
    And I read more than enough to recall you’re being caught in an outright lie about “being new to the computer” some articles back – so I certainly don’t take any stories you type up at face-value, let alone consider them evidentiary-grade about anything. Is there some illogic to that?
    Yours and other ‘vicitms’’ and SNAP’s stories are precisely not able to be ‘taken’ at face-value, and certainly not in the internet forum where people – as we have seen – can type up anything they have a mind to. Thus, of course, they can’t simply be ‘added up’ to provide some fancied preponderance of evidence of anything.
    Whatever the relevance is of still-Father Doyle’s plan of some time ago to this present discussion is as difficult to discern now as it was when you first proposed it.
    And I can’t follow the logic of all of the (as I said, dubious) stories being added up thus working out so that it all “spells counterintelligence”. You’ll need to explain that rationally – for those of us among the readership that don’t have access to the special phone line or tinfoil antenna-hat by which you receive what you seem to imagine are crystal-clear illuminations.
    But then – as if by pre-arrangement (and it was not, I assure the readership) – you  then assert that “SNAP is working for the victims and the Philly D.A. was working just to have a case against Finn”.
    A couple of points.
    First, I read and remember enough to know that your usual line – often repeated  on this site and on others – has been that SNAP is precisely not working for victims but for its own agenda. So that’s a rather large disconnect in such rationality and consistency as your comment possesses.
    Second, as I have suggested in comments on this site, there is the ever-present possibility that when cases don’t work out well, then certain types will quickly turn on the previously glorified prosecution: in this case, the Philly D.A. is not and was never working for victims. I can completely agree with that and in various comments on this site I have discussed that very probability at great length. Your own comments have trended toward the suspicion that the Church “controls” (the word you have used elsewhere) the whole process and the Philly D.A. is thus apparently in cahoots with the Church (perhaps thus also tying in somehow with the “counterintelligence” bit, but who knows?).
    If “priests” are included as “political people” (along with the now hapless Philly D.A. who has also fallen into your sights), and if all “political people” lie, then where does that leave the SNAP organization? Surely you don’t intend to assert that SNAP is not ‘political’? And where does that leave the political elements who have whomped up this entire Crisis and the Philly case in particular? Or are you inferring that the Church arranged the sex-abuse crisis and the Philly trial itself for its own purposes and to its own advantage? If so, please say so outright and let everybody read that assertion in black and white on the screen.
    And once again – despite the welter of google-worthy historical references – do you seriously assert that the only people on the planet and among the species who lie are “political people and priests”? Nobody else? Not even for hundreds of millions on payday? Really?
    And if “politicians” lie – as you so widely indicate – then who is to say that they haven’t lied about not being involved in this whole 30 years’ worth of Catholic sex abuse ‘crisis’? Would it not be extremely imprudent of any rational person – according to your train of thought – to take politicians at their word?
    And I would venture that the majority of those lying politicians are and have been “sexually straight men” … soooo, where does that sort of leave your thought-process? And are you suggesting that most “sexually straight men” would not lie for a paltry $20,000 or whatever larger sum might be involved, especially if there was an almost zero-chance of being further required to provide evidence of what they claimed or of being held-to-account legally if they were shown to have sworn out false testimony? You are really breaking some amazing new ground here.
    And please explain by what logical process you arrived at the assertion that less than three percent of such claims are false? Share with us, pray, how you have managed to solve the perennial difficulty of proving a negative. Thinkers back to the Greeks must surely have been deficient to fail in finding the solution that you have apparently come to while sitting at the computer (that is so new to you).
    And as for your knowledge of Western and world history – let’s leave logic out of it for now – then you’re going to have to provide some mighty serious references to back up the ‘world-control for 2000 years’ bit. The Church when it lost so much of the then-Christian world to Islam? The Church in the struggle with the nascent monarchies of the early-Modern period? When Henry VIII broke away? When Luther broke away? When the Popes were taken by foreign troops, such as when Napoleon did it to Pius VII? When the Third Republic embraced laicite? When the Mexican revolutionary governments did? When Hitler held the education of Catholic children in Germany hostage to force the Church to sign a Concordat? If the Church controlled so much of the world how did Lenin’s revolution even get started? How did it survive for all those decades? And – but of course – let’s not forget your assertion a while back that the Church is also controlling the Catholic sex-abuse Crisis. How does that work again, exactly?
    You read? Books? All I can recommend is that you do even more of it. In the meantime, perhaps a dash more humility, at least until you or the tinfoil have filled in the gaps in your knowledge-base and your reasoning.
    But as always, I think that the demonstration we all have just seen here is indicative of the type of ‘knowledge’ and ‘thinking’ that has fuelled so much of this crisis, especially on the internet where – on far too many sites  - the mere recitation of historical references, and the mere typing up of assertions (spiced up with a bit of snark), pass for knowledgeable and rational commentary. And I am grateful for the opportunity to point that out.

  11. jim robertson says:

    I swear to your God I only got a computer in Jan. 12. I'm sorry you don't know the truth when you hear it. Wow as usual maybe your projecting. The personal is political. You're really reaching for illusionary excuses. You say nothing . You make no sense.  You like Oakland ,according to Gertrude Stien, have no there there. Poor poor Church forced to make a deal with Der Fuhrer. Your the "type" of person who may know the dates and names of history but you are always Catho-centric. Western civilization no longer defines itself with the Catholic Church as it's center. You do for you. The rest of us who no longer are fooled, are way over it; and it's hypocricy.
    How much wealth do you think the Church has? I say probably the most because again they never gave any back to the people they coerced it from. Tithing: 10% What's 10% roughly of 2000 years worth of empires? Catholic empires ?
    I only wish someone would take a Pope nowadays take him and keep him.
    Lenin got started because the Russian orothdox Church which owned 78% of all arable Russian Land and the oligarcy that controlled Russia murdered tens of thousands of it's people in the trenches of WW1.
    Murdered them by sending them to a war Russia couldn't supply or pay for. Aside from the fact all war is immoral. Not the Catholic Church i agree but to pretend the Catholic Church hasn't done as well if not better financialy is pure foolishness. Idiocy in fact since you love calling peoples' thoughts derogatory names. It seems more than time to turn the tables.Just because your experience with the sex abuse crisis is restricted to your keyboard. It doesn't mean that Im in the same position.
    Dude, I read and I read books with more words in them than pictures  (I'm being ironical). You suck the air out of a room. you must have been a "teacher" you know the kind that turns students off because your so superior without much to be superior about. A teacher that doesn't teach what he/she think they teach.but teach people  right off  education itself. Quite the gift for the world. Thank you." On far too many sites" says it all. You remind me of the William Jennings Bryan character Brady in "Inherit the Wind" the worlds wrong but your right. Pardon me, you and your religion are right. I would love to seperate the "Church" and the "state" of your mind.  Ever hear of empathy?

    • TheMediaReport.com says:

      Ding! Ding! Ding!

      That’s the sound of the bell in the ring. The fight is over.

      Thank you, gentlemen.