Diocese Attorney Challenges 'Impartiality' of Judge; Moves for Disqualification from Sanctions Hearing

Burlington Free Press
November 22, 2006

Judge Ben Joseph is too biased to preside over a hearing on whether the longtime attorney for the statewide Roman Catholic diocese concealed church documents in a priest sex abuse case and should be punished, the church attorney's lawyer said today.

Ritchie Berger, representing church attorney William O'Brien, filed a motion this morning to have Joseph disqualified from presiding over a hearing on whether O'Brien should face sanctions, or court-imposed punishment, for his alleged conduct.

The motion was filed moments before Joseph was to convene the sanctions hearing in Chittenden County Superior Court that had been requested by Jerome O'Neill, the attorney for the victims in 25 pending priest sex abuse cases.

Berger pointed to remarks Joseph had made in court that "wrongdoing" regarding past delays in the discovery and release of church documents as proof Joseph was prejudiced against O'Brien.

Joseph has acknowledged he thought wrongdoing had occurred but said he was careful to say he had not concluded who was responsibility for the wrongdoing. As a result of Berger's disqualification motion, the sanctions hearing was postponed until an administrative judge rules on Berger's request.

Diocesan lawyers unsuccessfully tried to have Joseph removed from presiding over the abuse cases this summer, claiming he was biased against the church. In that instance, the administrative judge rejected the church's request.


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