Naming Abuse Victims Debated
Judge Says Names Already Out; Order Seeks Addresses, Phone Numbers
By Jim Hannah
July 28, 2006
BURLINGTON - Lawyers clashed with a judge Thursday about whether giving authorities names of sexual abuse victims suing the Covington Diocese is a betrayal of trust.
The victim's attorneys argued that Special Judge John Potter's order violated the promise of anonymity given to more than 300 people seeking to collect an $84 million settlement with the diocese.
Potter didn't rule on a request to tear up his order, leaving it unclear when he might try to enforce it, something the victims' attorney vowed to fight in appeals court.
Potter said the goal of his order was to make sure the perpetrators are brought to justice - not to out sex-abuse victims.
"This is not about reporting the victims," Potter said. "This is about reporting the perpetrators. The focus of the order is to bring the perpetrators to the attention of the prosecutorial authorities."
Robert Steinberg, one of the lawyers representing the victims, said the order was unnecessary because the diocese was self-reporting sex-abuse allegations.
Diocesan attorney Carrie Huff said every sex-abuse allegation made to the church, regardless of when it occurred, has been given to prosecutors. The information includes the perpetrator's name and location, the location of the abuse, when the abuse occurred and, except in only two cases, the victims' name.
She said prosecutors are to call the diocese if they need more information to file criminal charges.
While the diocese didn't file court papers opposing Potter's order, Huff made it clear she didn't like it. She said the order "afflicted pointless cruelty on the victims."
She said Potter had "snookered" the victims into coming forward under the guise they would remain anonymous in the class-action suit.
Potter stopped Huff mid-sentence to accuse her of doing the "snookering" because the diocese has been supplying the names of sexual abuse victims for at least the past four years. He questioned whether the victims had been adequately notified that the diocese would give their names to authorities.
Potter asked the lawyers why they were fighting his order when the diocese already was reporting sex-abuse allegations to prosecutors.
Potter said the only additional thing his order called for was to provide prosecutors with the victims' addresses and phone numbers.
The fact that prosecutors have been receiving the names of sex-abuse victims for years appeared to shoot down much of Steinberg's argument. He claimed prosecutors would be forced to turn over the names to journalists under Kentucky's Open Records Law.
Commonwealth's Attorney Linda Tally Smith, who serves Boone and Gallatin counties, bristled under the implication an elected public prosecutor wouldn't honor a sex-abuse victim's confidentiality.
"With regards to the Open Records Act, records or information compiled and maintained by commonwealth's attorneys pertaining to criminal investigations are not required to be disclosed," she said.
The argument then shifted to why the last criminal prosecution of a Northern Kentucky priest was more than a decade ago.
In 1993, Earl Bierman, a former priest and teacher at Covington Latin School in the 1960s and '70s, pleaded guilty to 25 molestation charges involving six boys in Campbell, Kenton and Mason counties.
Church records later released for a civil trial revealed he abused dozens more. Many of Bierman's victims are part of the class-action suit. Bierman died last year in prison.
Since the class-action suit was filed in 2003, public accusations of sexual abuse have been made against five other former priests in Northern Kentucky. One of those men died; another lives in Canada.
The victims' lead attorney, Stan Chesley, said the problem is that Northern Kentucky's commonwealth's attorneys may not be willing to devote their limited manpower and money to decades-old sex-abuse claims. He said it would be pointless to prosecute a dead man.
Kenton County Commonwealth's Attorney Bill Crockett and Smith said none of the information forwarded to them has resulted in a criminal prosecution of a priest.
Smith, however, said she still passes the sex-abuse allegations onto the proper law enforcement agency for investigation.
"The accuser is encouraged to contact us if they are interested in pursuing criminal charges," Crockett said. "None has done that."
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