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AP: Arizona Bishop Arrested After Fatal Hit-and-Run

Aired June 16, 2003 - 17:15   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're following this developing story from the Associated Press. The dateline, Phoenix. A Catholic bishop, Thomas O'Brien of Phoenix, has been arrested in connection with a fatal hit-and-run traffic accident, a police spokeswoman telling the Associated Press that O'Brien is being booked for leaving the scene of a fatal accident.
Let's bring in our legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin. He's monitor this story for us.

Jeffrey, we're told the search warrant was delivered to O'Brien's home and that he's being charged in connection with this. What have you learned about this developing story?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, what's important to emphasize here is that there is no special privilege that a bishop or any clergyman has that might spare him from being prosecuted in a case like this.

Of course, what's interesting here is that Bishop O'Brien has been in the news a great deal this very month because of a compromise he reached with the prosecutor in Phoenix regarding child molestation charges. But in terms of a hit-and-run accident, the only thing that clergy people have is a privilege regarding counseling or private communications. It wouldn't be relevant at all, I would think, to hit-and-run. So he's just like an ordinary citizen when it comes to a case like this.

BLITZER: And according to the Associated Press, Bishop O'Brien, according to police, was one of two cars that was involved in this hit-and-run accident. At issue, 43-year-old Jim Reed. He was jaywalking, apparently, across a busy street Saturday night. The AP reporting that neither of the two drivers stopped their cars. Police say the bishop acknowledges he was driving in the area at the time.

It sounds pretty extraordinary. But fill in our viewers, the history of Bishop O'Brien in connection with the other issue that you discussed.

TOOBIN: Well, what happened was as, in so many places around the country, there's been an investigation of the archdiocese in Phoenix for covering up for priests who were involved with child molestation. Now there was no claim that Bishop O'Brien himself molested anyone.

But what he did was he reached an unusual compromise with prosecutor. He admitted that over a period of many years -- he's been the bishop since 1981 -- over many years he allowed bishops -- he allowed priests who had been charged with child molestation to move from parish to parish, thereby exposing lots of children to more abuse. He admitted that he did that and he was not prosecuted, but agreed to give up some of his responsibilities for supervision of the archdiocese.

So the prosecutors got an admission. They got a chance to clean up the archdiocese and Bishop O'Brien avoided being prosecuted for obstruction of justice. This just happened earlier this month. It's pretty remarkable he's back in the news in a very unfortunate way just a few weeks later.

BLITZER: And additional information coming in from the Associated Press in Phoenix right now. Police served a search warrant at O'Brien's home, towed away his car, whose windshield was caved in on the passenger's side, according to the Associated Press. Later, O'Brien was seen driving away with detectives. He was the front seat of a passenger car. Apparently was not handcuffed, according to this report. But a few minutes after that, the car arrived at the main jail in downtown Phoenix.

A pretty incredible story when you take a look at the coincidence, if you will, between what happened earlier in the month, as you point out, and what's happening right now. It's a serious charge, though, leaving the scene of an accident, especially if you're involved in a hit-and-run, isn't it, Jeffrey?

TOOBIN: It's a very serious crime, and judging from what we know so far it looks like the Phoenix police are handling this like any other hit-and-run accusation. You know, the search warrant, immediate inquiries. Again, being a clergyman doesn't shield you at all from this kind of accusation, doesn't protect you from producing evidence. The only rights that clergy people have is a right not to disclose confidential communication with parishioners. That -- you know, based on what we know so far would seem to have nothing to do with a hit- and-run accident like this one.

BLITZER: And we've been showing the video that we're just getting in to CNN, Jeffrey, of Bishop O'Brien going in, going into that police center, that jail in Phoenix, where presumably he's going to be questioned. But based on this initial accounts of the Associated Press certainly does not look very promising for the bishop, if, in fact, he did -- he was involved in this hit-and-run incident, and he did, in fact, leave the scene of this crime, if you will. We're going to continue to monitor this story.


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