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Judge Warns Against Delays in Priest's Theft Trial

August 19, 1993|DWAYNE BRAY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Fifteen months after police found traces of cocaine and $10,000 in small bills in the church-owned car of Father David Dean Piroli, a Ventura County Superior Court judge warned defense and church attorneys Wednesday not to delay the trial of the Simi Valley priest any further.

In a stern admonishment, Judge Allan L. Steele showed his frustration with legal maneuvers that caused the trial--originally scheduled for June 28--to be postponed and could threaten the new Sept. 7 trial date.

At a hearing to determine whether Sacred Heart Church in Saticoy and St. Peter Claver in Simi Valley should be required to release more financial documents than they already have, Steele three times advised the lawyers not to delay the proceedings any further.

"I am really planning to start this trial on Sept. 7," the judge said, glaring at attorneys representing the churches and the defendant.

"From the standpoint of my calendar and this court," Steele repeated emphatically, "I am planning to start this case Sept. 7."

At least one attorney got the message.

"I anticipate being ready, yes," Piroli's counsel, Richard J. Beada, said when asked after the hearing if he would be prepared by the new trial date. Beada was flanked by Piroli, who attended the hearing in his white-collared clerical uniform, as has become his custom during court appearances.

The hearing was the latest in a series of legal maneuvers played out since Piroli was charged last year with two counts of grand theft. He is accused of embezzling $60,000 in collection money from the two churches.

He was assistant pastor at St. Peter Claver at the time of his arrest. Sacred Heart Church was his previous assignment. He has been relieved of duties and is free on $100,000 bail posted by loyal parishioners.

It was Beada's request for more financial documents that forced Wednesday's hearing. Beada argued that the two churches had not released financial documents that he needed to prepare for Piroli's defense.

Earlier, Beada subpoenaed the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for the financial records of the two parishes, attorneys said.

The archdiocese did not object to releasing files of donations to the parishes, but it balked at relinquishing some other financial records, including a list of expenses.

In late May, the archdiocese turned over 4,000 pages of documents concerning the finances of the two churches, but those records were so voluminous that it made it impossible for the defense to go to trial as scheduled June 28.

Still, the defense wanted more records and Steele ordered an in-camera inspection of them. That means that the judge inspects the records in his chambers and determines whether the requesting party--in this case Piroli's defense team--is entitled to the documents.

In denying the request, Steele said Beada had not sufficiently demonstrated that access to the documents would strengthen Piroli's defense.

"The information is sealed and is not to be opened," Steele said.

Beada then told the judge that the churches have been slow in giving him still more documents under the process of legal discovery. David P. Callahan, who represents the parishes, said those records would be delivered by Monday.

That's when Steele encouraged the two attorneys to do whatever is necessary to be prepared by the new trial date.

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