Tuesday, August 06, 2002
Judges disagree on sex abuse suit
The Associated Press
FRANKFORT - A panel of three Court of Appeals judges Monday disagreed over whether the public should see files of a lawsuit in which five people allege they were abused by Catholic priests.
The files would include material a trial judge has ordered removed from the case as irrelevant.
One appellate judge questioned whether a court should allow itself to be used to spread scurrilous allegations after the court has found them to be baseless.
A second judge countered that the public would know the allegations lacked credibility if they were stricken from the record.
Differences emerged at a hearing on the lawsuit against dioceses of Lexington and Covington. Unlike dozens of lawsuits filed against the Archdiocese of Louisville, names of the five plaintiffs are part of the material under seal.
The five allege they were sexually abused as children.
The Diocese of Lexington wants to keep the files sealed - especially portions that the trial judge, Fayette Circuit Judge Mary Noble, has ordered stricken from the record. The diocese's attorney, John Famularo of Lexington, described the disputed material as smut and dirt that should never have been submitted to a court.
The Lexington Herald-Leader says the records should be open.
The Courier-Journal of Louisville last week joined in a Herald-Leader lawsuit. Chief Judge Tom Emberton, who headed the panel, said a ruling might come Tuesday.
Herald-Leader attorney Robert Houlihan said the diocese wants the court to suppress everything scandalous. It's not the court's job to take care of the church, Mr. Houlihan said.
Appellate Judge William L. Knopf said there was a larger issue - the court's authority to protect itself from people filing things in the record that shouldn't be in there ... scandalous, impertinent evidence.
Should the court allow itself to be used and let people put scurrilous things in the pleadings that shouldn't be in there? said Judge Knopf, of Louisville.
But Judge Sara Walter Combs of Stanton said striking material from a court record is one thing; keeping it under seal is another. Stricken material loses credibility in the eyes of the public, she said.
Trial Judge Noble ruled that the case file should be open, but the Lexington Diocese obtained an emergency order from the Court of Appeals to keep it sealed.
Also during the hearing, the lawyer for the alleged abuse victims, Robert Treadway, claimed he was denied a public document that, theoretically, anyone had a right to inspect. He did not identify the document. Under rules of the court, Mr. Treadway could only allude to disputed material.
Mr. Treadway said he finally obtained the document, but it took a private investigator two days to get it.
"It's not the court's job to take care of the church.'
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