This article was written in collaboration with The Legal Intelligencer, a sibling publication of CorpCounsel.com.
The decision by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to place its general counsel on administrative leave appears to be the latest move in an effort by the new archbishop to bring in new outside and in-house legal counsel.
The Philadelphia Inquirer first reported Saturday that Archdiocese General Counsel Timothy Coyne was placed on administrative leave.
A source with knowledge of the decision told The Legal Intelligencer Monday that the parameters of the administrative leave are unclear even to the source, but said the expectation is that Coyne will not be returning.
Coyne has been with the archdiocese for six years, and prior to that was with Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young, which had served for several decades as outside counsel for the Philadelphia church.
Stradley Ronon was replaced late last year at the decision of Archbishop Charles Chaput, who was installed in September 2011 as leader of the archdiocese. White-collar defense firm Welsh & Recker was hired to oversee the logistics of the civil and criminal cases related to the sex abuse scandal and litigation boutique Conrad O’Brien took over as the new litigation counsel for the archdiocese as to all litigation matters.
Stradley Ronon was said to remain as counsel to the archdiocese on certain transactional matters.
While Coyne is on leave, the source said, a Conrad O’Brien attorney will serve as interim general counsel, working part-time at the archdiocese and part-time at the law firm. That attorney, who the source did not name, has a background in transactional matters.
A spokesman for the archdiocese said only that “this is a personnel matter, and we won’t be discussing it publicly.” Attempts to reach Coyne at a phone number believed to be his were unsuccessful.
The source said that, with respect to representation of the archdiocese, the “Stradley machine is being dismantled,” and removing a former Stradley attorney from the general counsel position was definitely a part of the motivation for that change.
The other aspect, the source said, was a recent allegation by defense lawyers for Monsignor William J. Lynn that the archdiocese knew of for years—but did not turn over—a memo written by former Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua that ordered the shredding of documents related to priests who were accused of sex abuse. Court documents show that Coyne testified Bevilacqua’s memo was found in 2006 when a safe in Lynn’s former office was cracked open. There is no other information about when Coyne specifically learned of the document or what his duty was to turn it over.
Lynn was the archdiocese’s secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004. He was responsible for the assignment of priests and responding to reports of sexual abuse or other improprieties allegedly committed by priests.
Lynn is charged with endangering the welfare of two young men whom his co-defendants allegedly abused and being in a conspiracy with his co-defendants.
Lynn’s lawyers argued through a motion to dismiss that, if grand jurors had known that Bevilacqua had an alleged role in covering up the alleged sex abuse, they might have perceived that Bevilacqua was lying when he testified that he deferred to Lynn’s recommendations on how to handle such complaints and not have recommended charges against Lynn. Their motion was denied.
The Legal reported in 1999 that Coyne was one of a handful of Stradley Ronon lawyers representing the archdiocese. He joined the firm after graduating from Villanova University School of Law in 1989. Coyne handled litigation and risk management issues for the church as outside counsel.
Coyne left Stradley Ronon for three years in 1994 to enroll in St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. But during that period, he still worked part-time in the archdiocese’s legal office. He returned to Stradley Ronon after leaving the seminary.
In 1999, the National Catholic Reporter relayed comments Coyne delivered to priests, nuns, and laypersons attending a Seton Hall University Law School Program titled “Avoiding the Pitfalls of Church-Related Work.”
“No matter how vigilant a pastor or principal is, he or she may still face a lawsuit,” said Coyne, who represents the Philadelphia archdiocese and various religious orders. “The little old lady who says her beads daily in church will sue you if she slips and falls in church,” he told the Reporter. Coyne told priests at the event that they should regard lawyers as their friends—advising them to call their lawyers for advice, even before a chancery or insurer.
Just how soon Coyne’s own clients sought his advice remains to be seen.
The Morning Call reported that Coyne testified last month that when he asked Monsignor Edward Cullen—the number two man under Bevilacqua at the time—and others about the list during the first grand jury probe, they said they didn’t know where the list was. A report on the initial probe was issued in 2005.
After a second grand jury report, last year, the archdiocese suspended 21 priests. According to the report, as many as 37 priests were still active despite credible accusations against them. According to The New York Times, the church said that in eight cases no further investigation was warranted. Several other priests had either already been suspended or were no longer active.