O'Brien's Bid to Tally Travel Time Is Rejected

By Joseph A. Reaves
The Arizona Republic [Phoenix AZ]
April 8, 2004

A judge on Wednesday rejected Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien's request to count travel time toward the community service he was ordered to perform for a felony hit-and-run conviction.

Judge Stephen A. Gerst of Maricopa County Superior Court issued a brief written order that simply said: "Travel time will not qualify for purposes of receiving credit for community service."

The ruling ended several days of increasingly bitter exchanges between the bishop's defense team and Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley about terms of the bishop's sentence.

O'Brien, 68, was convicted Feb. 17 of leaving the scene of a fatal accident last summer. He was sentenced March 26 to four years of supervised probation and ordered to perform 1,000 hours of community service ministering to the sick and dying. His driver's license was suspended for five years.

The bishop's attorneys asked Gerst at an informal closed-door hearing six days after the sentencing to modify terms of O'Brien's probation.

They requested that the bishop be given credit for time spent traveling long distances for relatively short community service visits. They also asked for flexibility in the minimum 40 hours per month Gerst sentenced the bishop to spend doing community service.

In his one-page ruling, Gerst said O'Brien could vary his hours somewhat but must submit quarterly reports to show he is making steady progress toward his 1,000-hour commitment.

"The community service hours over the three-month quarterly period should average a minimum of 40 hours per month," Gerst said. "Any excess hours performed will carry forward to the next quarterly period."

Romley filed court documents last week opposing the bishop's request to count travel time in his community service. Romley said he was worried the bishop was being given "preferential treatment."

O'Brien's lead attorney, Tom Henze, responded with court documents of his own accusing Romley of political "grandstanding."

Gerst's ruling avoided emotional language, simply denying the defense request for travel time and agreeing to let O'Brien "average" 40 hours of community service instead of adhering to the strict monthly minimum


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