Hearing Date Set in Church Lawyer Misconduct Dispute

By Sam Hemingway
Burlington Free Press [Vermont]
February 20, 2007

Judge Ben Joseph has set a March 12 date for an all-day hearing on the fate of a longtime attorney for the statewide Roman Catholic diocese accused of concealing church records in a pending priest sex abuse case.

Joseph scheduled the hearing date late last week after an administrative judge refused a request by the attorney, William O'Brien, to reconsider her Jan. 23 decision denying O'Brien's request to have Joseph removed from presiding over the upcoming hearing.

"This disqualification motion already has delayed this case for over two months," Judge Amy Davenport wrote in her latest ruling. "It is time to move forward."

O'Brien, through his attorney Ritchie Berger, accused Joseph of being biased against him and cited an instance where Joseph remarked in court that "wrongdoing" might have occurred in connection with the church's belated discovery of 27 years of church personnel records.

The records had been requested by Jerome O'Neill, the lawyer for an alleged victim of the Rev. George Paulin. The victim, a former Newport altar boy, claims Paulin molested him in the early 1970s. The Free Press does not publish the names of alleged victims of sexual abuse without the person's consent.

O'Neill claims O'Brien withheld release of the church records for nearly two years and wants Joseph to punish O'Brien and the diocese by issuing a default verdict in the case in favor of the victim. O'Neill has 27 priest sex abuse cases pending in Chittenden Superior Court.

Berger on Monday declined comment on Davenport's ruling and Joseph's setting of the March 12 hearing date on the O'Brien matter. "I've not had time to review this," he said. "I've had other fires to deal with."

Also pending before Joseph are seven motions filed by lawyers for the diocese and related entities either asking him to reconsider earlier decisions or requesting permission to appeal several of his pre-trial rulings in the Paulin case to the Vermont Supreme Court. All of the challenged rulings went against the diocese.

As part of its opposition to Joseph's rulings, lawyers for the diocese noted that O'Neill himself had acknowledged in a Jan. 7 letter filed with the court that "we have no specific proof" that Paulin had molested anyone before the claims he sexually abused O'Neill's client.

O'Neill on Monday criticized the diocese's reconsideration and appeals requests.

"Every time the diocese tries these delays it hurts my clients," he said. "The diocese claims to care about these victims, but what this shows is that all it cares about is money."

Contact Sam Hemingway at 660-1850 or e-mail at


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