D.A. Subpoenas Files on 14 Priests in Sex Scandal
Action Follows Grand Jury Testimony by Detectives, Sets Stage for Clash with Archdiocese

By Richard Winton
Newsday [Los Angeles CA]
April 25, 2003

Personnel files of 14 more Los Angeles priests have been subpoenaed, widening the investigation and setting the stage for another confrontation between the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles and prosecutors over evidence in the clergy sex scandal.

The Los Angeles County Grand Jury subpoenas, issued over the last week, are the first this year and attorneys say they almost double the number of files on individual priests and church officials that are being sought by prosecutors.

Six retired or former priests have been charged with crimes in Los Angeles County. The subpoenas followed the grand jury testimony of detectives from several police departments

"We continue to vigorously pursue our investigation, and expect it will be very active and intense in the months to come," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Bill Hodgman, chief prosecutor in the clergy cases. Hodgman declined to discuss the specifics of the subpoenas.

Files on 17 priests and church officials were sought last year. But prosecutors have yet to see those records. Attorneys for the archdiocese argued that disclosure of the nearly 2,000 pages of church documents would violate fundamental tenets of the faith and constitutional protections for communications between priests and their superiors.

Hodgman has argued that conversations between bishops and priests are not constitutionally protected. He said suspected child molesters should not have a "free pass."

Prosecutors said they believe information in the files will support allegations by more than a dozen adults that they were molested as children by priests.

At least one priest whose file was subpoenaed admitted to Cardinal Roger M. Mahony in 1986 that he had molested a child and, after receiving therapy, was transferred to new parishes. In 1990s, Michael Baker allegedly continued to molest two boys. He was ousted from the ministry in 2000 and was charged last year with multiple counts of child molestation.

Retired Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Thomas F. Nuss could rule on the issue by late May. Nuss is also expected to preside over the latest round of subpoenas.

J. Michael Hennigan, attorney for the archdiocese, said that, under a recent change in state law, issuing subpoenas allows prosecutors to ensure that legal deadlines for prosecuting crimes do not run out. "They are buying more time," he said.

The change modifies a state law that allows authorities to prosecute alleged sexual abusers, no matter how old the crimes. But charges must be filed within one year of the victim's reporting incidents to authorities.

It also freezes the one-year statute of limitations in a case in which a subpoena is issued and the defendant files a legal challenge.

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley lobbied heavily for the change in state law after a legal challenge to the subpoenas by the archdiocese delayed the investigation so long that, in some cases, the one-year deadline was about to pass.

The legislation was enacted against the backdrop of a U.S. Supreme Court decision, expected this summer, on the constitutionality of the California law that allows the prosecution of decades-old sex crimes such as those involving the priests. Prosecutors said the archdiocese seems to be delaying disclosure in hopes that decision will derail the prosecution.

Cooley has accused the archdiocese of "a pattern of obstruction" in conspiring to keep reports of child molestation secret. Church officials said that accusations of conspiracy are unfounded and irresponsible, and they said that not one priest accused of child abuse is in ministry with the archdiocese.

Attorneys for several accused priests said that the church had given prosecutors enough information.

"These are fishing trips. They have priests with a single allegation, and they know that alone won't make a case. They're searching for victims," said attorney Don Steier. "The legal jihad continues."


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