Bishop’s request draws fire - East Valley Tribune: News

Bishop’s request draws fire

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Posted: Wednesday, April 7, 2004 6:08 am | Updated: 5:27 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

The hit-and-run case of Bishop Thomas J. O’Brien is still causing a stir, even though it’s been nearly two weeks since a judge spared the former Catholic leader jail time and sentenced him to 1,000 hours of community service.

On Tuesday, Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley lashed out at the bishop and Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Stephen Gerst after O’Brien asked the judge to give him credit for travel time during his community service.

"It’s like being paid for going to and from work," Romley said.

The request came Thursday in an "informal" off-therecord session between Gerst, O’Brien’s defense attorneys and prosecutors.

According to a written motion filed Friday by prosecutors, "the Court indicated a willingness to allow the Defendant credit for travel time in performing community service."

Defense attorney Tom Henze said in a written reply that the state is misrepresenting what occurred in the meeting, grandstanding for political reasons.

"Those circumstances were limited to instances when the travel time was lengthy, particularly in relationship to visitation of short duration," Henze wrote.

Henze also took a slap at Romley’s public criticism of Gerst.

"Such conduct diminishes the respect for the Court, which is a necessary ingredient to the judicial system and the administration of justice," Henze wrote.

Attorneys will argue about the issues at a hearing that has yet to be set, Romley said.

"This judge has already made it clear he should be treated differently," Romley said.

Romley is not the only one who is steamed.

Pranks, hang-ups or threats are the majority of calls received on a special line set up for O’Brien to fulfill his community service, said Mary Jo West, spokeswoman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix.

The line was set up so the public could request O’Brien visit sick and dying people.

One of the more disturbing calls said O’Brien should put a gun to his mouth and "eat a bullet," West said.

Chandler resident Joan Sundeen, a juror in O’Brien’s trial, said the public and pundits should leave the bishop alone.

"What it comes down to is people are ignorant of the case," said Sundeen, who was raised a Catholic but who has left organized religion behind. "They imagine in their minds what happened."

Many people speaking out against the bishop have their facts completely wrong, Sundeen said.

For instance, she has heard either in personal conversations or from callers on talk radio that O’Brien was drunk or that he killed Jim L. Reed, the man he hit June 14.

There was no proof of either at trial, Sundeen said, pointing out that a second car ran Reed over after O’Brien hit him near 19th and Glendale avenues.

"He heard this noise, he saw this damage, he should have stopped. That’s what this boils down to," the juror said.

She also didn’t buy the state’s theory that O’Brien tried to cover up the crime.

She said she saw a man who has been coddled his entire life and whose life experiences have been limited by being a priest or training to be one his whole life.

For example, what authorities contended was the bishop’s denial, Sundeen saw as sincere disbelief that he hit a large man.

"I think he lives in this void," she said.

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