A criminal case that could test 1,500 years of priest-penitent privilege could be headed toward the Michigan Court of Appeals.
Farmington Hills attorney Raymond Cassar said on May 25, 3rd Circuit Court Judge Cynthia Gray Hathaway made a good call when she said she wouldn’t mess with the age-old tradition, and law, that protects confidentiality between pastors and members of their flocks.
Cassar’s client, Samuel Bragg, now 18 years old, is accused of molesting a family member when he was 15 and the girl was 10 years old. In October 2009, the girl told the pastor at her church, where Bragg and his mother are also members, about the alleged molestation. Read Michigan Lawyers Weekly‘s story here. (Subscription required for full access.)
The pastor called Bragg and Bragg’s mother into his office to discuss what the girl had said. And according to Cassar, the pastor said that after lengthy questioning in the church office, Bragg confessed (though Bragg contends he never did). Later, the pastor, the Rev. John Vaprezsan, voluntarily gave police a one-page written statement to that effect.
At Bragg’s preliminary examination, 34th Wayne County District Court Judge Brian Oakley permitted Vaprezsan to testify, despite Cassar’s argument that MCL 600.2156 and MCL 767.5(a)2 clearly protects clergy-penitent communication as privileged and confidential.
Motions were due on May 18, and were argued Wednesday in front of Hathaway.
After Hathaway said she wouldn’t allow Vaprezsan to testify, Cassar said he was told by assistant prosecuting attorney Angela M. Povilaitis that it is her intent to to appeal at Michigan Court of Appeals. The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office declined comment.
“Judge Hathaway said in court that it was obvious what my client was [in the pastor’s office] to do. He was there to seek counsel from his pastor,” Cassar said. “And she wasn’t about to interfere with that privilege.”