Phoenix Diocese Balking on Files

By Joseph A. Reaves
The Arizona Republic
January 15, 2003

Court records unsealed this week show the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix is fighting to keep thousands of documents from a grand jury investigating allegations of sexual abuse and possible criminal cover-up by church officials.

The records provide the first behind-the-scenes glimpse at the intense legal battle between the diocese and the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.

Church officials have claimed for months they are cooperating fully with grand jury investigators.

County Attorney Rick Romley, however, has repeatedly rebuked those claims, saying, "The diocese spells cooperation differently than I do."

The newly released court records indicate both sides are telling the truth.

According to the records, the diocese has turned over nearly 100,000 documents but wants several thousand more kept secret. Church lawyers say at least 3,500 documents, and probably more than twice that number, should be protected by attorney-client privilege and other long-accepted legal exemptions.

Romley and his investigators say the church is invoking privilege issues to delay the grand jury and protect potentially incriminating files.

To try to settle the standoff, the church agreed in November to let Maricopa County Judge Eddward J. Ballinger examine 3,500 documents they consider privileged. On New Year's Eve, he ruled that about 1,200 of the documents should be kept secret and ordered the church to give 2,286 documents to the grand jury.

The diocese has asked the state Court of Appeals to overturn Ballinger's ruling on the grounds he used conflicting and unprecedented standards.

Ballinger ruled that, under existing state law, the right of client-attorney privilege for corporate entities such as the diocese is far more limited in criminal investigations than it would be in civil cases.


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