(Host) In a surprise move Judge Ben Joseph declared a mistrial after nearly four days of testimony in a case involving the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington.
The case involves a man who alleges he was sexually molested by a former Vermont priest.
And it’s the first case of alleged sexual abuse by a Catholic priest to go to a jury trial in Vermont.
As VPR’s Steve Zind reports, the judge’s decision left both sides unhappy.
(Zind) The plaintiff James Turner says the Reverend Alfred Willis molested him in 1977. At the time Willis Vermont priest in the Burlington Diocese.
Willis had already reached an out-of-court settlement with the plaintiff, so the Diocese was the sole defendant in the trial.
Joseph declared the mistrial after the lawyer for the Diocese asked questions about the priest’s relationship with the plaintiff brother who was also a priest.
Judge Joseph said the questions violated a pre-trial agreement.
Diocese lawyer David Cleary says he’s frustrated and disappointed by the decision. Cleary says there was nothing in the judge’s comments during his questioning that indicated to him that he had violated the agreement.
(Cleary) “So as the attorney asking the questions I have to say as I did to the judge, where’s the guidance from the court that you believed during the time of the questioning that I was exceeding any bounds.'”
(Zind) Cleary says Judge Joseph’s decision to declare a mistrial is one of a series of decisions that show a bias against the church.
Each side blames the other for the judge’s decision.
Cleary says the plaintiff’s attorney requested the mistrial because the proceedings were not going his way.
(Cleary) “We were feeling that this was a very fair jury, that when we finished cross-examination of the plaintiff and when we put on a very, very important witness who was a girlfriend of the plaintiff’s that the jury was going to have some very serious questions about the whole situation.”
(Zind) Jerome O’Neill, the plaintiff’s attorney sees it differently.
(O’Neill) “The one this diocese fears is having a jury make a decision based on the merits of a case. It will do anything to prevent that from happening.”
(Zind) O’Neill says it could be months before a new trial takes place. But he say’s his client is willing to to wait to go through the process again.
(O’Neil) “Absolutely. He’s absolutely committed to it. He’s not going to let the diocese beat him down.”
For VPR news, I’m Steve Zind.