Judge Seeks Inventory of Records

By Bill Zajac
Republic [Springfield MA]
January 23, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - The Hampden County and Northwestern district attorney offices have been ordered by a judge to produce an inventory of investigative documents related to convicted child molester Richard R. Lavigne and the reasons the offices are withholding the documents from plaintiffs in clergy sexual abuse suits.

Hampden Superior Court Judge John A. Agostini ordered the inventory of documents yesterday while hearing a series of pre-trial motions in 30 or so consolidated cases of clergy sexual abuse civil suits filed against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield.

Agostini said he expects a response from both district attorneys offices regarding the matter within about two weeks.

The documents include thousands of pages of witness statements and state police files from investigations of Lavigne into possibly dozens of accusations of sexual abuse, according to Greenfield lawyer John J. Stobierski, who represents about 20 people who have filed clergy sexual abuse suits.

"This could be extremely significant if these documents are released," Stobierski said.

Only those documents related to Lavigne's conviction in 1992 have been released. At that time, he was charged with five counts of sexual molestation, but three charges were dropped when he pleaded guilty to two counts and was placed on 10 years probation.

Stephen J. Block of Springfield said he hopes the files are released. He was one of a half dozen people attending yesterday's court proceedings who have filed suit against the diocese, saying they were abused by Lavigne as minors.

"This could provide important evidence in our cases," said Block, who accuses Lavigne of abusing him in the 1970s.

Block said the assistant district attorneys have been insensitive to victims.

"I have come to more than a half dozen hearings here, and each time the lawyers from the district attorney's office walk by and say absolutely nothing to us. Not a 'hello' or a 'hang in there' or explain the proceedings. We are victims, but are being treated like criminals. Where are victim advocates for us?" Block said.

Agostini indicated that he is ready to rule that about 5,000 pages of documents produced by diocesan lawyers from their files should not be shared with plaintiffs because of the attorney client privilege.

However, Agostini said he is formally withholding the decision to give plaintiffs' lawyers an opportunity to present arguments against the ruling. Agostini is expected to officially rule March 12.

Agostini hasn't considered whether thousands of pages of diocesan personnel files and other diocesan documents fall under certain privileges. It is uncertain when a ruling regarding those documents will be made.

Agostini asked the 14 lawyers present yesterday to provide him with a list of motions that they could make before a trial begins.

Lavigne's lawyer Max Stern from Boston was present for the first time for any of the more than dozen local pre-trial hearings that have been held regarding the cases in the past 18 months.

Lavigne, who has been accused by about 40 people of sexually abusing them as minors and who was the only identified suspect in the 1972 unsolved murder of 13-year-old Daniel Croteau, was recently defrocked as a priest, the Springfield diocese announced Tuesday.