Lawyer in infanticide case accuses Catholic judge of bias over his religion


An attorney in Michigan defending a woman charged with smothering her newborn daughter to death has claimed that a judge’s Catholic religion and affiliation with Ave Maria Law School will color his judgment. The lawyer argued the judge’s work at the school was equivalent to attending a Ku Klux Klan meeting while trying a black man.

In October 2008 the body of a newborn girl was found in a plastic bag beside the bed of Emily Portellos. Now aged 29, she is accused of smothering her newborn and is on trial for first degree murder.

Her lawyer, Henry Scharg, has claimed his client has learning disabilities and did not know she was pregnant until she gave birth in her bedroom in an unassisted breech delivery. According to the Detroit Free Press, Portellos said the delivery was not painful and that she went to sleep afterwards.

She told authorities her baby was born limp and was not breathing, but tests showed the newborn’s lungs were functioning at birth.

Scharg has argued that the infant’s death was the result of Portellos’ pregnancy denial, a psychological condition. He said her actions amount to manslaughter at most.

He has also charged that trial judge Dan Ryan may be biased in the case because of his affiliation with Ave Maria Law School.

According to the Catholic League, on March 1 Scharg was angry that Ryan was taking vacation time to teach at Ave Maria on Mondays. A transcript from a Monday hearing on Judge Ryan’s fitness quotes Scharg as saying “This is the equivalent to an African-American man being on trial and the judge taking Mondays off to attend Klan meetings.”

Bill Donohue, Catholic League president, criticized the attorney, saying:

“Scharg has no business representing anyone. To compare an accredited Catholic law school to a racist terrorist organization is more than despicable—it constitutes rank anti-Catholic bigotry.”

In Donohue’s view, the remark was so egregious that it warrants “severe punitive sanctions, if not disbarment.” The Catholic League has filed a formal complaint with the Michigan Attorney Grievance Committee regarding the comments.

At a Tuesday hearing Judge Timothy Kenny ruled that Scharg’s argument that Judge Ryan was biased was “not persuasive,” the Detroit Free Press reports.

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