Judge's Role in Case Opposed
Leader of Priest Abuse Survivors Group Says Spargo Favors Diocese, Has Conflicts of Interest
By Michele Morgan Bolton
Albany Times Union
January 11, 2006
ALBANY -- The head of a survivors group for priest abuse victims wants state Supreme Court Justice Thomas Spargo removed from a church protest case, citing bias in favor of the Catholic diocese and conflicts of interest.
"It is my belief that a very serious miscarriage of justice has occurred and will continue to occur unless the court immediately reviews these facts," Mark Lyman said Monday in papers filed with the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court.
Lyman has organized Sunday morning protests outside Holy Cross Church in Albany for the past 30 weeks, since its pastor, the Rev. Daniel Maher, was accused of sexually assaulting a Colonie child twice in 1973. Demonstrations outside the Western Avenue church continue, even after a diocesan review board cleared Maher of wrongdoing.
Last fall, Spargo signed a temporary restraining order barring protesters from being any closer than 100 feet from church and school entrances.
Since then, he has conducted periodic hearings on a permanent injunction.
An employee in Spargo's office said the judge would have no comment.
LYMAN "We are unaware of this action," said diocesan spokesman Ken Goldfarb, adding the diocese expects to continue making court appearances, including this Friday.
Goldfarb said the only issue before the court is whether Lyman and others will have to observe the 100-foot buffer zone.
Lyman, who represents himself, says Spargo had continued to make decisions in two related cases, including one that involves Maher, even though the state Office of Court Administration removed the matters from his oversight Nov. 21.
Spargo is already under investigation by a state panel that oversees judges, charged with six instances of violating the state judicial code of conduct both on the bench and while campaigning for it in 1999 and 2001. Among them is his participation, while a sitting town justice, in a demonstration at the Miami-Dade County, Fla., Board of Elections during the Bush-Gore 2000 presidential vote recount.
Maher's attorney, Steve Coffey, is on the state Commission on Judicial Conduct that decides whether Spargo should be disciplined, censured or removed from the bench. A recommendation is expected soon.
Coffey couldn't be reached.
Despite hearing only 14 plaintiffs' witnesses, "(Spargo) has advised the parties he will be granting a preliminary injunction. He has conceded that he has prejudged the case, without even one witness being called by the defendants," documents said.
Spargo also quashed a subpoena issued for Bishop Howard Hubbard's testimony, even though the leader of the 400,000-member diocese talked with the school principal about how to handle protesters, Lyman said. And the judge refused to allow in-court discussion of the reason behind the demonstrations, restricting freedom of speech, he added: "When it's all said and done, this protest is about Maher. Now I have lost the ability to defend myself. It's a great safety net for the diocese."
Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at 434-2403 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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