Neighborhood news in brief for the week of March 5

Maritime Academy Charter School chosen as buyer for Douglas building

The School District of Philadelphia has chosen Maritime Academy Charter School as the potential buyer for the former Stephen Douglas High School building in Port Richmond, the district announced last Wednesday.

The charter school has been leasing the building and holding its high school classes there since the school year began. Douglas closed in June 2013.

The district selected the charter school as the buyer in a competitive process that began late last year when the district issued a series of Request for Qualifications for purchasers and received multiple offers, according to the district’s announcement.

An advisory committee, comprising representatives from the district, the city, the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation and the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, reviewed the offers and made a recommendation to the district. A short list of potential buyers were interviewed in early February. The district held a community meeting about the sale in Port Richmond on Wednesday, Jan. 29. Maritime will present a proposal to the School Reform Commission on March 20, pending negotiation, for final approval, which will enable the property to be sold in June. ••

Hearing set for anti-SLAPP bill

The state Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a public hearing on state Sen. Larry Farnese’s anti-SLAPP legislation in April, Farnese (D-1st dist.) announced last week.

Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (“SLAPPs”) can be used to prevent civic organizations and others from speaking out on a public issue by imposing the burden and cost of a legal defense on them. SLAPPs have what is known as a “chilling effect” on free speech. Farnese’s bill, Senate Bill 1095, would make it easier for those who are wrongfully sued to have their cases dismissed or recover attorneys’ fees, according to the public statement.

Sen. Michael J. Stack (D-5th dist.) is a co-sponsor of the bill. Farnese began working on the bill last year when the increased threat of SLAPPs led to the disbanding of the 40-year-old Old City Civic Association.

“We need to make sure that people can have a strong voice on what takes place in their neighborhoods without being silenced by the fear of a lawsuit,” Farnese said in the statement.

Matt Ruben, president of Northern Liberties Neighbors Association, will testify in favor of the bill at the hearing.

Twenty-seven states have anti-SLAPP laws, according to Farnese. Pennsylvania passed limited anti-SLAPP legislation in 2000 that applies only to environmental law and regulatory processes. The hearing will take place on Thursday, April 24, at 9:30 a.m. at the Philadelphia Bar Association, 1101 Market St. ••

Bridesburg priest’s trial begins

The jury trial has begun for the Rev. Andrew McCormick, former parish priest of St. John Cantius in Bridesburg, who is accused of sexually assaulting a 10-year-old altar boy in 1997.

The accuser, now 26, gave a tearful testimony last week, according to CBS Philly. In the testimony described by CBS Philly, the accuser said McCormick recruited him to be an altar boy and then assaulted him after an evening mass, abused him emotionally and said he was going to hell for being gay. He said he tried to commit suicide multiple times the next year.

McCormick’s lawyers have questioned the legitimacy of the accusation, saying only one person has accused the priest of molestation during his 30 years as a priest, according to NBC10.

An earlier judge had found the alleged abuse did not meet the legal definition of felony sexual assault, but Common Pleas Judge Paula Patrick reinstated the charges in October 2012, NBC10 said.

McCormick was suspended from the Philadelphia archdiocese when he was arrested in 2012 for a less serious allegation, according to 6ABC. ••