Monsignor Lynne’s and “Prior Bad Acts”-How the Criminal Case Affects the Civil Sex Abuse Victim’s Case Against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia
A significant hearing in the sexual abuse scandal involving Monsignor William Lynn was held on Monday, January 23, 2012. The hearing before the Honorable M. Teresa Sarmina was held to determine whether “prior bad acts” involving Lynn would be admissible during his criminal trial scheduled for March. “Prior bad acts” evidence is extraordinarily powerful evidence. It is what it sounds like, evidence of “bad” acts which occurred before the crime or incident in question. In most cases, civil or criminal, such evidence is not allowed, absent a special, compelling reason.
Lynn is charged with endangering the welfare of a child and conspiracy for ignoring reports of sexual abuse and/or inappropriate conduct with young boys by Lynn’s co-defendants, Rev. Edward Avery and Rev. James Brennan. At the hearing, prosecutors from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office argued for the admissibility of prior reports of inappropriate intimacy or direct sexual abuse that were made to Monsignor Lynn about Avery and Brennan. They also argued that Lynn had a report that Avery had sexually assaulted a young man yet ignored the report, allowing Avery to continue abusing at least one additional victim. Prosecutors also contend that Lynn knew about Brennan living in his rectory with one of Brenan’s former male students, yet took no action. This failure to act allowed Brennan to sexually abuse another young boy during a sleepover in 1996.
In order for this evidence to be admissible in the trial against Lynn, its probative value must outweigh the potential prejudice to the defendants. If Judge Sarmina were to allow the evidence in the criminal trial, it would be a devastating blow for the defense. It would allow the jury to hear the past abuse of Lynn’s co-defendants and his knowledge concerning the same. If disallowed, there would, in essence, be no evidence against Lynn concerning a conspiracy or endangering a child.
However, simply having the hearing conducted is a significant development in the civil case against the church. Without having to file a single pleading or request for discovery, attorneys for the young men who were abused by Avery and Brennan now have testimony that clearly shows a supervisor of the priests had knowledge concerning the priests’ involvement in prior abuse or inappropriate behavior with children, yet failed to stop it, thereby causing the abuse of more victims. In essence, the attorneys for the victims now have everything they need to win their case and they have not had to even lift a finger.
The hearing Monday is a perfect example of why crime victims need attorneys with a criminal background who understand the criminal process and its effect on a potential civil case. Without understanding how the two are intertwined, a plaintiffs attorney may miss out on significant, case changing developments.
The crime victims rights lawyers at Laffey, Bucci & Kent include a former sex crimes unit prosecutor. They know how to work with prosecutors so that sex abuse victims can achieve FULL justice against those who are criminally responsible and all those who can be held accountable in a civil court of law.