SAGINAW, Mich. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A prominent Michigan judge is being accused of trying to shut down an investigation into a homosexual predator priest.
Father Robert DeLand, a high-ranking priest in the Saginaw diocese, is currently serving 2–15 years in Michigan State Prison for multiple counts of sexual assault of young males. Prosecutors and investigators are claiming Judge Michael Talbot, a retired state judge, interfered with the investigation last year and tried to close it down.
Talbot, a state judge for 40 years before retiring from the bench on April 25, 2018, was appointed independent delegate by the late Bp. Joseph Cistone in the Saginaw criminal probe into clergy sex abuse. Talbot also has connections to Detroit, chairing the review board for sex abuse claims for the archdiocese since 2002. A longtime Catholic, Talbot has donated generously to the Saginaw diocese.
"I did have a caveat when the bishop called me about a week or so ago," Talbot said at a press conference in April 2018. "I had to make it very clear that I was going to be independent. I think that that is the threshold that has to take place so that there is confidence that anything that I do and everything I say is not coming from someone who is under the employ of the diocese or has any sort of relationship other than the delegation."
But prosecutors and investigators claim Talbot was anything but indepedent.
Detective Brian Berg, who spearheaded the investigation that led to DeLand's arrest and conviction, confirmed he was told Talbot had demanded that he drop the criminal probe.
"Talbot was demanding my Chief, Michigan State Police and Saginaw Township's Chief immediately terminate the investigation," he told Church Militant. "He was demanding to see the sealed search warrants and demanded [Saginaw County Assistant Prosecutor Mark] Gaertner and I be off the case."
"The absolute worst thing the Saginaw diocese could have done is to hire Mr. Talbot to handle this matter during a time Catholic parishioners were demanding accounting and transparency of their Church leaders," Berg added.
In a May 7 letter published in The Detroit News and signed by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and Saginaw County Chief Prosecutor John McColgan, Talbot is accused of "inappropriate and threatening behavior in ... an attempt to get it to shut down" their investigation into DeLand.
"Talbot acted in an unprofessional and highly disrespectful manner," the letter stated. "Based on the content of that meeting including Talbot's aggressive and disruptive behavior, it is clear that he attempted to use his position as a retired judge in an effort to intimidate, harass, berate, disrespect, belittle and interfere with an ongoing investigation under the guise of protecting children of the community."
Talbot's conduct last year led the prosecutor's office to file a grievance against him with the state attorney general's office. Although the attorney general did not proceed with the case, her spokesperson said that "we found the description of events provided to us by the Saginaw County Prosecutor's Office to be very concerning."
According to Commission Administrator Alan Gershel, Michigan's Attorney Grievance Commission can only pursue about 8% of grievances filed (approximately 2,000 are filed each year). This means that even cases that may have merit can't be pursued because of the attorney general's limited resources.
Among his demands, Talbot also insisted that property seized during the raids in March 2018, including all of Cistone's electronic devices, be returned immediately to the bishop.
Talbot reportedly made these demands in person in a meeting with Gaertner and McColgan in May 2018. Although the meeting was meant to be private, the judge had tipped off local media, who arrived with cameras set up in the hallway outside the prosecutor's office.
Gaertner reportedly confronted Talbot about the presence of media at what was supposed to be a private event, and Talbot allegedly answered that he wanted to present a "united front" to the public to give the impression that all parties were working together and cooperating. Gaertner refused to play along with the ruse, leaving Talbot to address the media alone.
"We have a common interest," Talbot told the press after the meeting. "We have no desire to have anyone out in active ministry, or any employee of the diocese who would be endangering minors. I'm concerned about whether there is anybody else. And I asked, 'If there is, please let me know; we wanted to take them out of ministry. My concern is the protection of young people out there today.'"
Talbot did not disclose to media the other contents of his communications, including his demand that prosecutors drop the investigation into DeLand, convicted in March 2019 for homosexual assault of two young males, including purchasing drugs for a 17-year-old victim.
Audio recordings of DeLand's conversations with the victim, whom the priest singled out when he was grieving the death of his friend to suicide, reveal him offering the teen money and gifts, flattering him, lavishing attention and affection on him, offering him cigarettes, alcohol and the drug ecstasy, and attemping to sexually assault him one night when he believed the victim was high on drugs. The assault led to his immediate arrest.
In February, Talbot had been tapped to oversee six sexual misconduct cases at Michigan State University (MSU), still reeling from the Larry Nasser scandal that revealed the world-renowned athletics doctor and university professor had molested hundreds of girls over the course of decades.
In response to the appointment, Dana Nessel revealed he had been the subject of a grievance filed by local prosecutors, leading to MSU's decision eventually to part ways with Talbot. Their public statement claimed Talbot was no longer involved owing to "scheduling difficulties."