Ex-priest to face more charges, prosecutor says
Prosecutors announced Tuesday that they intend to seek additional molestation charges against defrocked priest Michael Stephen Baker on behalf of a second alleged victim.
Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Mark Beaart said he would file an amended complaint next week against Baker, whose case Cardinal Roger M. Mahony has said is the one that “troubles me the most.”
Baker, who was arrested while returning from Thailand last January, has pleaded not guilty to molestation charges in the earlier case and remains in jail.
Two sources said separately on condition of anonymity that investigators had been led to the second alleged victim in part through information from Baker’s personnel file. The Los Angeles Archdiocese had vigorously fought turning over the personnel files to prosecutors, going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court before losing that fight in April. The archdiocese turned over the files soon after.
Officials from the district attorney’s office declined to comment Tuesday beyond what Beaart said in court.
Baker’s attorney, Donald Steier, said he and his client had been anticipating an amended complaint for several months.
Baker, who was known as a popular and vivacious priest, went to Mahony in 1986 and told him that he had a problem.
He was sent to treatment in New Mexico. When he returned, he was restricted from contact with minors. Archdiocese officials have since said that they mishandled Baker’s case.
The priest was defrocked in 2000, following allegations that he had molested two brothers beginning in 1984 when they were 5 and 7 and continuing for more than a decade.
The boys received a $1.3-million settlement, which was paid by the church, its insurers and Baker.
Baker was about to stand trial in 2003 on different molestation charges. But his case and those of nearly a dozen accused priests were thrown out after the U.S. Supreme Court barred the revival of decades-old childhood sexual abuse prosecutions.
Officials with the district attorney’s office said Tuesday that they could not specify the new charges. Baker is due back in court Dec. 20.
His hearing Tuesday was attended by several members of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a nationwide support group.
“We applaud the prosecutors for their persistence,” said Mary Grant, SNAP’s western regional director. “We believe there are many more victims of Michael Baker and witnesses who have information, and we are urging anyone to please contact law enforcement or the district attorney’s office.”
Meanwhile, a judge ruled Tuesday that jurors would decide the main claims for damages filed against the archdiocese by more than 500 people who alleged that they were the victims of clergy sexual abuse.
Michael Hennigan, counsel for the church, said the decision by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Haley J. Fromholtz is a “winnowing of claims.” He said parties have an additional 20 days to make final arguments.
“The decision means these cases are beginning to move rapidly down the road,” said Raymond P. Boucher, lead lawyer for the accusers.
Both men said discussions continue over details of the settlement of the first 45 cases that was announced on Dec. 1 by Mahony. Discussions involve issues of disclosure of church records, Boucher said.
Times staff writer John Spano contributed to this report.