Attorney Asks Judge to Recuse over Alleged Bias

November 24, 2006

Burlington, Vt. -- A lawyer representing a longtime Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington attorney accused of withholding church documents in a sex abuse case wants the judge in the case to recuse himself, saying the judge's impartiality is in question.

In a motion filed Wednesday, Ritchie Berger said Chittenden Superior Court Judge Ben Joseph used the word "wrongdoing" during two recent court hearings centered on church attorney William O'Brien, which he said raises doubts about whether Joseph can be impartial in deciding whether O'Brien should be sanctioned.

"Such an expressed pre-judgment by Judge Joseph demonstrates his bias against Mr. O'Brien and the diocese and raises substantial doubt as to Judge Joseph's impartiality, thus manding his recusal from this case," Berger said in his motion.

The motion was filed before a sanctions hearing scheduled for Wednesday, and prompted postponement of the hearing so an administrative judge can consider it.

Jerome O'Neill, the attorney for 25 victims suing the Diocese over alleged sexual abuse by priests, requested the sanctions after more than 26 years worth of records relating to an accused priest turned up last August. The church said the documents, which deal with the Rev. George Paulin, a priest who allegedly molested a Newport altar boy in the 1970s, were misfiled.

O'Neill has accused the Diocese of concealing the documents, and O'Brien _ citing what he says are personal attacks by O'Neill _ has filed a motion to withdraw from the case.


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