If the court filings are any indication, Msgr. William J. Lynn’s appeal of conviction on a child endangerment count will be as hard-fought as last year’s 11-week-long trial where a Philadelphia jury found him guilty for his supervisory role in the child sex-abuse scandal involving the Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
On Friday, just days after Philadelphia media reported on Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina’s 235-page opinion affirming Lynn’s conviction and her handling of the landmark trial, lawyers for Lynn filed their response in Pennsylvania's Superior Court, faulting the judge for virtually every key ruling she made.
The 21-page response by Thomas A. Bergstrom and Allison Khaskelis, Lynn’s appellate lawyers, asks the Superior Court to overturn the conviction of the 62-year-old cleric and argues that Sarmina wrongly allowed city prosecutors to charge Lynn under the broader 2007 amended child endangerment statute.
Lynn was the Archdiocesan Secretary for Clergy from 1992 to 2004, the job in which he investigated allegations against priests and recommended action to the archbishop. Lynn’s attorneys argued that he should not have been charged under the 2007 law and could not have been charged under the pre-2007 statute because it required direct contact of children, not merely supervisory power over priests accused of molesting them.
“The trial court skirts the broader question – whether [Lynn] can even be a supervisor as a matter of law,” the defense response reads.
Sarmina cited a 1998 Superior Court opinion, Commonwealth v. Brown, the defense filing continues, “but neglects to address this court’s clear mandate that involvement with a child is an indispensable requirement for being a supervisor.”
The defense lawyers also argued that Sarmina erred by allowed prosecutors introduce about 20 case files involving priests who allegedly sexually abused children. Prosecutors argued – and Sarmina agreed – that the cases were needed for the jury to understand Lynn’s mindset and motive in dealing with allegations against priests.
Sarmina said she was convinced the evidence’s value outweighed any prejudicial impact: “it was the only way to provide a glimpse into what [Lynn] knew and intended.”
Sarmina wrote that the Secret Archives files illustrated Lynn’s on-the-job training for handling child sex-abuse allegations.
In their Superior Court filing, Lynn’s lawyers claimed the historical cases were irrelevant to the case against Lynn and inflammatory.
“Not only did the jury have to listen for 25 days to this parade of horribles, but this court is now faced with the same poison. It was not admissible or relevant then, and hopefully, will not distract this court from the serious issues which need to be resolved,” Lynn’s appeal filing continues.
For Lynn, whom Sarmina sentenced last July 24 to three to six years in prison, the question is whether he will get a ruling from Superior Court before he serves the three-year minimum part of his sentence and becomes eligible for parole from his prison: Waymart, in Northeast Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania’s appellate courts are known for taking their time – often years – to address appeals and the Superior Court has not set a date for oral argument. The District Attorney’s office has 30 days from Friday to respond to Lynn’s appeal brief. The Superior Court has already denied Lynn’s request for release on bail pending the outcome of his appeal.
Bergstrom said Lynn is faring well, working in the prison library and acting as an informal chaplain and counselor to other inmates.
“He is a man who has always enjoyed solitude,” Bergstrom added.