Diocese, County Debate Client-Attorney Privilege

By Joseph A. Reaves
The Arizona Republic
February 1, 2003

A three-judge panel of the Arizona Court of Appeals heard arguments Friday in a case to decide whether the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix must surrender several thousand documents to a grand jury investigating allegations of sexual abuse.

Attorneys for the diocese and the Maricopa County Attorney's Office were given 20 minutes each to debate the scope of Arizona's client-attorney privilege law, which church officials claim prevents them from turning over more than 3,500 documents to the grand jury.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Eddward Ballinger ruled on New Year's Eve that the church is interpreting the client-attorney privilege too liberally. He ordered the diocese to hand over 2,246 of the documents.

Diocese attorney Robert G. Schaffer told the panel that Arizona has created an unfair and complicated system that defines client-attorney privilege differently for criminal and civil investigations. That disparity, he said, led Ballinger to incorrectly rule the church should surrender the documents.

Paul McMurdie, deputy county attorney, argued that both public interest and legal precedent in Arizona support Ballinger's decision to deny sweeping privileges to the diocese.

The presiding judge on the panel, G. Murray Snow, said the court would consider the arguments and issue a ruling, but he gave no indication when that would be.

Snow and Judges Patrick Irvine and Susan A. Ehrlic listened intently to the arguments and peppered both sides with questions.

McMurdie said the case likely will be appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court, regardless of how the Court of Appeals rules. - 2 -

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