NORWALK, Calif. - Charges were dismissed Tuesday against two former priests accused of molesting children, bringing to eight the number of clergy sex abuse defendants in Los Angeles County whose cases have been dropped under a U.S. Supreme Court decision.
Michael Baker, who did not attend a hearing Tuesday in Norwalk, had been charged with molesting the boy between 1980 and 1985. He was charged with 34 counts of sexual misconduct, including lewd conduct and oral copulation.
Defense attorney Don Steier said Baker, 55, was relieved the charges were dropped. He said the case was about following proper legal procedures.
"In this case, it has nothing to do with guilt or innocence at all, it has to do with following the rules," Steier said outside court.
He said trying the old cases would have been unfair because witnesses had died or their memories had faded.
"A lot of priests' prayers have been answered," Steier said.
The charges against Baker were dismissed by Superior Court Commissioner Michael Schuur at the request of prosecutors.
On June 26, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to strike down the California law that eased the statute of limitations in old molestation cases.
Deputy District Attorney David Katz said prosecutors would have been eager to try the case if not for the decision.
Charges were also dropped Tuesday against retired priest Titian Athos Miani, 76, who was charged last month with two counts of committing a lewd act on a child, said district attorney's spokeswoman Jane Robison.
The case involved the alleged molestation of two girls in the 1960s, when Miani was assistant principal of St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower.
Commissioner Edward Drayer ordered the charges dropped at a hearing in Bellflower.
The charges against Baker stemmed from Matthew Severson's claims that he repeatedly was abused by Baker. Severson, now 35, said Baker had sent him notes apologizing and professing his love. Severson did not attend the hearing Tuesday.
The offenses were alleged to have occurred in the rectory of churches in the Los Angeles suburbs of La Mirada and Pico Rivera, and in a Palm Desert condominium. He has testified the abuse began when he was 7 or 8.
Severson, now 35, said Baker had sent him intimate notes apologizing and professing his love.
Baker had pleaded innocent. Steier declined to comment on any molestation allegations, saying only that Baker had never been convicted.
Baker still faces a civil suit from a woman who says Baker molested her even after he admitted to Cardinal Roger M. Mahony that he had abused several youths. The suit, which names Baker and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, alleges childhood sexual abuse, assault and battery, among other allegations.
Baker was defrocked in December 2000, after the woman's allegations were made to the archdiocese. Mahony first notified police about Baker last year.
A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles did not immediately return a call for comment Tuesday.