Newspaper Argues for Identifying Priests

By Joshua L. Weinstein
Portland Press Herald [Maine]
Downloaded August 12, 2003

Lawyers for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram say the newspaper's lawsuit to force the state Attorney General's Office to disclose the names of deceased priests who have been accused of sexually abusing minors would ensure "a public accounting" of the priest sexual abuse scandal.

"That is what this case is all about," Jonathan Piper and Sigmund Schutz, of the law firm Preti, Flaherty, Beliveau, Pachios & Haley, wrote. "A public accounting by disclosure of certain records received by the Defendant from the Catholic Diocese and a public accounting of the Defendant's investigation into allegations of sex abuse by deceased priests."

The lawyers' argument is in a brief filed in Kennebec County Superior Court last week.

The newspaper is suing for documents that its lawyers believe are public under the Maine Freedom of Access Act. The state argues that the documents are exempt under the law because they constitute "an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."

The most recent legal brief is a response to one filed by the Attorney General's Office a week earlier.

In an interview Monday, Piper said that lawyers at the Attorney General's Office "relied heavily on interpretations of the federal Freedom of Information Act, and their reliance on that is misplaced because the two acts are entirely different in terms of philosophy and in terms of language, and I think when that linchpin is lost, they lose the argument."

Leanne Robbin, an assistant attorney general, said the Maine Freedom of Access Act is actually similar to the federal Freedom of Information Act.

"Why, when we were drafting the (state) act, did we track the language of the federal law in looking at the criteria for releasing investigative records?" she said in an interview Monday. "The Legislature tracked the federal language quite closely. The standard that we're looking at, the unwanted invasion, is taken right from federal law and . . . when you look at the federal jurisdictions around the country, you've got much more case law interpreting their language than we have here in Maine, so it's common sense to look at the cases already out there."

More than common sense, she said, "It's what the Law Court has said."


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