New judge assigned to archdiocese sexual abuse case
The Baltimore Banner
Judge Robert K. Taylor Jr. will oversee case to release grand jury investigation into abuse
Published on: January 03, 2023 1:44 PM EST|Updated on: January 03, 2023 4:18 PM EST
The debate over the release of a massive investigation into sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Baltimore will be decided by a new judge, a judiciary spokesman said Tuesday.
Baltimore Circuit Judge Robert K. Taylor Jr. will oversee proceedings regarding the release of an investigation from the Maryland Office of the Attorney Generaldetailing the “sexual abuse” and “physical torture” of more than 600 children and teens at the hands of 158 Catholic priests.
The 456-page report is the product of a four-year investigation by the attorney general’s office with the assistance of a Baltimore grand jury. Under state law, grand jury materials are confidential without a court order.
Taylor, 56, has served on the bench since 2018. Previously, he served as an assistant attorney general and was senior counsel for forensic litigation, according to his official biography.
Some survivors of sexual abuse in the archdiocese had raised concerns about the previous judge assigned to the case, Anthony Vittoria. His biography lists him as a parishioner of the Catholic Community of South Baltimore. A now-shuttered school associated with that church — the Catholic Community Middle School — was the scene of some of the most notorious abuse cases associated with the archdiocese. John Merzbacher, a lay teacher who worked there in the 1970s, is serving four life sentences for the repeated rape of a student. More than a dozen other students had also accused Merzbacher of raping and sexually assaulting them, but their cases never went to trial.
The change in judge was “part of the normal management of the court,” judiciary spokesman Bradley Tanner said in an email. “This was expected many months prior to the filing of the case,” Tanner said.
The legal battle around the investigation began in mid-November when the attorney general’s office first asked the court for permission to release the report. In court filings, the attorney general’s office described a history of “pervasive” sexual abuse within Baltimore’s Catholic churches and schools, as well as a coverup and “complicit silence” by church officials.
The archdiocese said it would not object to the release of the report and pointed to numerous steps it had taken to correct its culture and support survivors of abuse. However, the archdiocese also acknowledged that it is paying for the legal fees of 13 people who are named in the report but not accused of sexual abuse and do not want their names released.
These people, whose identities have not been disclosed, are represented by prominent attorneys Gregg Bernstein and William Murphy.
In December, Vittoria sealed the proceedings concerning the release of the names, which kept the public — including survivors of abuse — from learning what was happening in the case.
Attorneys representing two groups of victims have filed motions to unseal the case and expedite the release of the report. Vittoria denied those appeals late last month.