Judge's Request for Names Spurs Debate
Appeals Court Could Rule on Releasing Names of Abused
By Brett Barrouquere
The Associated Press, carried in Lexington Herald-Leader
August 5, 2006
Louisville - Attorney Stan Chesley promised confidentiality to more than 350 victims of sexual abuse at the hands of priests.
Then a judge ordered him to turn over to prosecutors not only their names, but how to contact them and a description of the abuse.
The conflicting promise and order have set up a legal battle.
Unless the judge and attorneys reach a compromise, the Kentucky Court of Appeals will decide whether a promise of confidentiality trumps the need for prosecutors to get information on an alleged crime -- and whether a judge can order an attorney to reveal the identities of clients in a civil lawsuit.
Special Judge John Potter suspended his ruling this week for 60 days to allow time for an appeal or resolution to the dispute.
The attorneys involved in the case, as well as Potter and outside observers, say the dispute is unprecedented among the numerous sex abuse lawsuits filed against the Roman Catholic church in North America.
"I don't know of any judge anywhere that has done this," said David Clohessy, national director of The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a nationwide support group. "Victims come forward because they can remain anonymous. He's jeopardizing that."
The dispute arose after Potter approved an $84 million settlement between victims of sexual abuse and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington. Potter, on his own, ordered Chesley to hand over the victims' information.
Potter said Kentucky state law requires the names of victims and details of an alleged crime to be reported to prosecutors and, as the judge overseeing the settlement, he can order that the names be turned over.
Potter wrote that the underlying question being debated was whether to prosecute the perpetrators -- and local prosecutors should be empowered to make such a call.
"The question should be: What is the authority for sealing a file and not informing the authorities about known criminal activity?" Potter wrote.
While a 2004 investigation by the diocese uncovered 158 claims of abuse involving 35 priests, Potter wrote that the litigation leading up to the settlement likely uncovered evidence that hundreds of children were sexually abused by dozens of church personnel thousands of times.
Chesley, his co-counsel Robert Steinberg, and Carrie Huff, the attorney for the diocese, objected.
Turning the names over now would break the promise of confidentiality and possibly result in the names being made public, Steinberg said. The plaintiffs are adults and are free to talk with prosecutors if they choose to, but should not be forced to, Steinberg said.
The diocese has been sending prosecutors information about alleged crimes, but withholding the names of the victims and how to contact them, Huff said.
"We don't give personal information," Huff said. "We let the victim do that if they want to."
The state law cited by Potter doesn't require the names of victims who are unwilling to testify or don't have a case that can be prosecuted for some reason, Steinberg said.
He also argued that Potter doesn't have the authority to intervene now because a settlement has been reached, though Potter has said he retains authority over the case until the settlement has been paid.
"Our concern is his revealing the identities of class members who were promised anonymity," Steinberg said. "We believe he doesn't have the authority to do this.".
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