Ralph Cipriano hates the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, as he’s demonstrated through his two decades of reporting on and mudslinging at the local branch of the Catholic Church. But he also hates a miscarriage of justice, which is what he thinks of the convictions of three priests and one school teacher in the Philadelphia Catholic Church sex abuse scandal. And it’s his reporting on these convictions that has resulted in a subpoena landing on his desk.
Late last week, the subpoena arrived from the Market Street offices of Slade McLaughlin, the attorney representing “Billy Doe,” aka the Philadelphia District Attorney’s star witness in the Catholic sex abuse cases. Doe, who has a long history of drug abuse and arrests, has a civil suit pending against the Archdiocese and the men who stand convicted of crimes against him. It is scheduled for trial in 2014. Similar suits have yielded millions of dollars in judgments for plaintiffs in other cities.
The thing is, Cirpriano–who, again, hates the Archdiocese–says in no uncertain terms that Doe is full of shit, that his story is full of holes and that his testimony just doesn't add up.
"The whole thing is a travesty," says Cipriano. "There's no witness that backs [Doe] up. Every witness that I'm aware of directly contradicts this kid's story. These guys were totally railroaded."
Cipriano has made his position clear in a series of stories for BigTrial.net (the trial coverage blog sponsored by local attorney Jim Beasley) and other sites. With headlines like "Billy Doe's Junkie Hustle," the reporter is not exactly disguising his bias. Another is titled "A Tragic Miscarriage of Justice." He's also picked apart the famous 2011 grand jury report, citing at least 20 factual errors in it.
More recently, in an October 17th piece in Northwest Philadelphia's Independent Voice newspaper, which reaches 35,000 households, Cipriano dives into the issue of Doe's 854 pages of medical records, which figure prominently in the civil case. Cipriano finds more inconsistencies in those documents, and he believes that the subpoena was, in part, an attempt at a prior restraint action, i.e. the attorney was trying to stop Cipriano from publishing the story. But the article had already been published when he received the subpoena.
"My sense is that he was unaware that this article about the civil case had been printed in this obscure paper," says Cipriano of the attorney. "I had emailed him, telling him that I had seen the medical records and that I was looking for his comment regarding the contradictions in the medical records."
The subpoena demands Cipriano's presence in the law office next Monday, October 28th, and that he bring with him the following:
Any and all correspondence or emails, or other written or electronic information in your possession between you and any civil or criminal counsel for defendants... and/or any person purporting to act on behalf of any of said defendants. Any and all documents exchanged between you and any such individuals, but not limited to, the medical records of Plaintiff Billy Doe. Any and all statements in your possession, written or recorded, given by any of the counsel for the defendants or by any person acting on behalf of said defendants. Any materials of any kind provided by any counsel for any of the defendants, and/or any person purporting to act on behalf of said defendants. Any and all medical records, or summaries of medical records, in your possession pertaining to Plaintiff Billy Doe.
A discovery hearing is scheduled in the civil case for the following day. He is meeting with an attorney to discuss his options. Doe's attorney was not immediately available for comment.
Clearly, the defense attorneys are going to poke the same holes in Doe's story that Cipriano says he's found, meaning that Doe's case is nowhere near a slam dunk. And many, including Cirpriano, of course, suspect that some–if not all–of the criminal cases that hung so largely on Doe's testimony could be overturned down the line. And given that these cases are the cornerstone of District Attorney Seth Williams' career in Philadelphia, one has to wonder about his mayoral ambitions in the event that the whole thing falls apart.