Ranch Told to Release Records
Morning Star to Appeal Ruling on Residents' Files
By Benjamin Shors
Spokesman Review (Spokane, WA)
May 5, 2007
A Spokane County Superior Court judge has ordered Morning Star Boys' Ranch to release more than 1,000 personal files of former residents to attorneys who represent seven men who say they were sexually abused.
Judge Harold Clarke reminded attorneys Friday of the "utmost sensitivity" of the files, which may contain medical, educational and personal information on former residents who are not involved in the case.
"I can't overemphasize how sensitive these materials are," Clarke said.
The personal files may contain "thousands and thousands" of pages of documents regarding men who once lived at the Catholic boys home, which opened in 1956. The ranch has worked with 1,300 boys in the past 50 years.
The order was stayed pending an appeal by attorneys for the boys home. A 2006 protective order will ensure that information in the files is not released to the public.
The judge's order may prove a critical decision in the case and in a second case involving two other former residents. Attorneys for the plaintiffs say as many as three more men may be added as litigants.
In court filings, the attorneys allege that Morning Star officials concealed accounts of abuse at the ranch south of Spokane and failed to report allegations to state officials tasked with its oversight.
Morning Star previously turned over 15,000 pages of logbooks documenting the daily life of residents at the ranch. The personal files provide a second - and perhaps more complete - account of the boys' lives, said Ken Kieffer, an attorney for the men.
Kieffer already has some personal files for the men he represents. One contained writing in "big black letters" instructing Morning Star staff not to include an allegation of abuse in that day's log, Kieffer said.
"If we didn't have the personal file, we wouldn't have known about that incident," he said.
Jim King, attorney for Morning Star, said the request for the residents' personal files was "nothing more than a fishing expedition." King said the files contain privileged information.
"There is an absolute privilege that Morning Star cannot waive," King told the court. The boys ranch "will give them the file for any person they get a release from," King told the court.
Morning Star's longtime director, the Rev. Joseph Weitensteiner, retired from the ranch last spring. The Catholic priest has vehemently denied allegations that he sexually abused two boys at the ranch in the 1970s and '80s - as alleged in a previous court filing. Morning Star said Weitensteiner passed a polygraph test.
Morning Star's founding director, the Rev. Marvin LaVoy, is accused of sexually abusing two boys at the ranch. LaVoy died in 1994.
Officials and attorneys for the boys home have strenuously defended the ranch's conduct.
"All of these claims in this case are hotly disputed," said King, the ranch's attorney.
Kieffer told Clarke they may seek to add past members of the ranch's board of directors to the list of defendants in the case.
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