HARRISBURG The decision reversing the landmark conviction of Philadelphia Msgr. William J. Lynn could have big implications for the forthcoming trial of three former Pennsylvania State University administrators, according to legal experts and lawyers involved in the case.
The state Superior Court ruled that a 2007 child-endangerment law should not have been used retroactively to charge Lynn, former secretary for clergy in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, for alleged actions years before.
The Penn State officials accused of covering up a child sex-abuse scandal were charged under the same statute for alleged conduct in 2001.
"The Lynn decision is conclusive in requiring dismissal of the [endangerment] charges in our case," said Thomas J. Farrell, attorney for former university vice president Gary Schultz. "I trust that the prosecution will have the good grace to recognize the import of Lynn and withdraw the charge."
The state Attorney General's Office issued a statement Friday to PennLive.com, saying the Lynn decision would be reviewed. But it also noted some charges against the former PSU administrators involved alleged conduct after 2007.
Authorities contend that Schultz, former university president Graham Spanier, and ex-athletic director Tim Curley failed to report a sexual-abuse claim against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky in 2001, exposing other boys to his sexual assaults between then and 2008.
Lynn was the first U.S. church official ever charged in connection with mishandling clergy sex-abuse complaints. He was convicted of child endangerment last year after prosecutors contended he knowingly shuffled predator priests among Philadelphia parishes between 1992 and 2004 and that one of those priests sexually assaulted an altar boy.
But the Superior Court ruled Thursday the state's child-endangerment law at the time applied only to parents and caregivers, not supervisors like Lynn. The statute was broadened in 2007 to include supervisors.
Spanier's attorney, Elizabeth Ainslie, called the ruling "very helpful."
Duquesne University School of Law professor Wes Oliver predicted Friday prosecutors would likely fight to retain all charges in the university case, in part because the Superior Court opinion could be reversed. Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams will appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court.
Spanier, Schultz, and Curley also face counts of perjury, obstruction, conspiracy, and failure to properly report suspected child abuse. No trial date has been set.