course, and grant bail to Msgr. William J. Lynn.
It was Judge Sarmina who denied Lynn bail twice in 2012, before and after she put him away for three to six years after a jury found the monsignor guilty of one count of endangering the welfare of a child.
A three-judge panel of Superior Court appeal judges on Dec. 26th reversed that conviction, saying the "plain language" of the state's original child endangerment statute plainly didn't apply to Lynn. It only applied to adults who had direct contact with children, such as parents, teachers and guardians, the Superior Court judges said. It did not apply to the monsignor, who never even met the alleged victim in his case. [The state's original 1972 child endangerment law was amended in 2007 to include supervisors such as Lynn.]
The Superior Court judges went one step further, labeling Sarmina's handling of the law in the Lynn case as "fundamentally flawed." So no wonder Judge Sarmina looked like she was sucking on lemons today when she read a legal soliloquy from the bench that basically amounted to: I may have screwed up the case, but I really don't think so; I'm still the trial judge and you're not; and I bet I'm going to be upheld when the state Supreme Court takes this up on appeal.
Meanwhile, not to be upstaged, a representative for District Attorney Seth Williams managed to top their previous high standard for rhetorical excess. Only a few days after filing a motion that suggested the hapless monsignor might be masterminding an international plot to flee the country and escape to the Vatican, Hugh J. Burns, Jr., chief of the D.A.'s appeals unit, topped that whopper by comparing Lynn's status as a flight risk to Ira Einhorn, AKA the Unicorn.
So the D.A. was comparing Lynn, the celibate priest and ultimate company man, to the free-loving, freewheeling hippie sociopath who clubbed his girlfriend to death and stuffed her mummified corpse into a steamer trunk he kept next to his bed for 18 months. Nice.
Today's bail hearing/comedy act was a fitting capper to the show trial that was the Lynn case.
It began shortly after 10 a.m. when Judge Sarmina pointed out that in the wake of the Superior Court opinion reversing the conviction of Lynn, the monsignor's defense lawyers tried to get the Superior Court to release Lynn directly, but were told they had to go back to Judge Sarmina's courtroom and ask for a bail hearing.
As the trial court judge, Judge Sarmina reminded everyone, she alone had the discretion to decide Lynn's fate. Ah, but "what to do with that discretion," that was her dilemma, Judge Sarmina mused from the bench.
Judge Sarmina mentioned that in the Superior Court opinion, her "application of the law" may have been brought into question.
"I may have gotten it wrong," she conceded. "I am fallible."
But then she opined that ultimately, she expected to "be upheld" when the case is taken up on appeal by the state Supreme Court.
Sure enough, D.A. Burns stood up and announced that the D.A. was going to appeal the case to the state Supreme Court.
From the bench, Judge Sarmina upbraided Lynn for not doing enough to protect victims from predator priests. She said as the archdiocese's secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004, Lynn "covered up many things."
But what to do about that unanimous three-judge opinion from the Superior Court, Judge Sarmina pondered. If the "conviction is in question, is not the punishment in question as well?"
Right on, Judge. That seemed to be what the Superior Court was saying when they reversed that conviction, and said that Lynn should be "discharged forthwith."
Lynn's lawyer, Thomas A. Bergstrom, argued that bail shouldn't be any higher than the $50,000 originally set when Lynn was on trial in Judge Sarmina's courtroom. That amount of bail would require a 10 percent cash deposit of $5,000, Bergstrom said.
Besides, Bergstrom kept saying, those Superior Court judges declared that Lynn should be "discharged forthwith."
D.A. Burns stood up and argued that the Superior Court opinion Bergstrom was putting so much stock in was "subject to review," and that the judge should deny bail to Lynn.
Bergstrom returned to the "strong language" of the Superior Court. He objected to suggestions by D.A. Burns that it could take up to 30 days to get Lynn out of jail.
When the judge agreed it might take some time to arrange Lynn's release, Bergstrom got agitated.
"Discharged forthwith," the defense lawyer repeated, reminding Judge Sarmina of the language of that Superior Court decision. "I think that's meaningful, but I'm not gonna argue about it."
Bergstrom suggested the D.A.'s appeal to the state Supreme Court wasn't going anywhere, because, he said, the Lynn case was one of a kind. Lynn was the only supervisor ever to be charged under the state's original child endangerment law. That law has since been amended to include supervisors, so why would the state Supreme Court take up a case on appeal that only effects one person, Bergstrom argued.
Upon questioning from the judge, Bergstrom conceded that he was only offering one lawyer's opinion. The judge reminded the defense lawyer that other lawyers might have different opinions.
As if on cue, D.A. Burns promptly volunteered: "I don't think you can rule out that the Supreme Court might take it."
Fifteen minutes into the hearing, Judge Sarmina announced she had made up her mind what she was going to do with her discretion as trial judge: she was going to grant bail pending an appeal to the Supreme Court. But before she would release Lynn, the judge said, she wanted the prisoner brought back to her courtroom.
"I want him in front of me when I tell him what his conditions are ... conditions pending bail," she said. She said she was still concerned about the possibility that Lynn would "flee the jurisdiction."
That prompted a discussion that shifted to the judge's chambers. When the principals came out, Bergstrom had heard enough suggestions that Lynn was about to flee the country.
"It's fantastic," Bergstrom told the judge. "There's not a chance in the world he's gonna flee the jurisdiction. There's no evidence he would flee."
"Why would he flee," Bergstrom asked. His conviction just got reversed. He's an innocent man. What's the worst thing that can happen to him? The state Supreme Court takes the case, Bergstrom said, and they reverse the reversal. So Lynn has to serve the rest of his sentence.
He just did 18 months, a clearly exasperated Bergstrom told the judge. "He can do [another] 18 months standing on his head."
When Judge Sarmina objected to Bergstrom's remarks, particularly that bit about Lynn standing on his head, the defense lawyer told the judge he was just trying to be reasonable. It's not reasonable to suggest that Lynn would flee the country, Bergstrom said. That's not based on reality, that's based on fantasy.
The judge was annoyed. "You're willing to be reasonable," she said sarcastically. "That's so kind of you."
Burns stood up and argued that sometimes, "fantasy may be reality." Then he brought up Ira Einhorn. Nobody thought he would flee either, Burns said. Like the Unicorn, Lynn might be harboring fugitive impulses.
The judge set bail at $250,000, which would require a $25,000 deposit. It was five times the original amount. She ordered Lynn to turn in his passport.
"I believe I'm gonna require electronic monitoring," she said, which means that Lynn will have to wear an ankle bracelet. The judge said she would also require Lynn to report to his parole officer in Philadelphia every week.
"I'll get the passport," Bergstrom responded. "We'll post the bail. And I'll deal with the electronic monitor."
Lynn will report to a parole officer wherever and whenever the judge says, Bergstrom said.
"We'll learn to live with it," Bergstrom told the judge about her conditions for parole.
After it was all over, Bergstrom, still recovering from open heart surgery a month ago, said his client would spend New Year's Eve in jail, and New Year's Day, but after that, he'd probably be out "within a week."
The defense lawyer repeated to reporters his prediction that the D.A's appeal to the Supreme Court wouldn't go anywhere. "It's a fool's errand," he said, "because I think they'll lose."
The question of what Lynn will do when he gets out of the slammer is still up in the air.
"He's a priest in good standing," Bergstrom told reporters.
Lynn would no doubt love to return to the position he held when he was indicted, pastor at St. Joseph's Church in Downingtown. Parishioners at St. Joe's brought their rosary beads to the courtroom when Lynn was on trial, to show their support. They also wrote letters to Judge Sarmina on Lynn's behalf, describing Lynn as a humble and caring shepherd available 24-7.
But sending Lynn back to St. Joe's might bring some heat on the archdiocese. There's a lot of baggage that goes with being perceived as the disgraced Cardinal Bevilacqua's yes man. While Bergstrom was talking to reporters today, two protesters stood out there with placards that said, "No Bail For Lynn; He Bailed On Victims," and, "Bail Out Victims; Keep Lynn In Jail."
When asked about Lynn's status, Kenneth A. Gavin, the archdiocese's director of communications, responded, "It's too early in this whole process to provide a definitive answer to that question."
It's not even known if the archdiocese will spring for Lynn's $25,000 bail.
"I don't know yet," Bergstrom said, when asked by reporters where the bail money was coming from.
"Anybody want to kick in?" Bergstrom asked.