Abuse Plaintiffs Ask for Files

By Stephanie Barry
Republican [Springfield MA]
March 13, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - Lawyers for both sides in 30 clergy sexual abuse lawsuits against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield continued to wrangle yesterday over reams of documents so far protected by attorney-client privilege and other confidentiality laws.

Greenfield lawyer John J. Stobierski, who represents the majority of the alleged abuse victims, argued that the possibility of a criminal cover-up among diocesan leaders may trump protections afforded lawyers and their clients.

Lawyers representing the diocese contended the local church never concealed abuse, and that more than 5,000 pages of records related to complaints in the early 1990s against defrocked priest Richard Lavigne should remain protected.

About half the pending suits accuse Lavigne, while the rest accuse other priests. Many include allegations of molestation against the plaintiffs when they were altar boys.

Lawyer John J. Egan, who has represented the Springfield Diocese for decades, sharply rebuked Stobierski yesterday during a motion hearing in Hampden Superior Court for repeatedly implying that Egan's law firm is withholding records from plaintiffs.

"You have every single piece of paper," Egan told Superior Court Judge John A. Agostini, adding that he believes Stobierski is using the courtroom as "an arena for cheap shots."

Stobierski maintains he may be entitled to documents including statements and affidavits of victims; correspondence between Egan and other lawyers; copies of old settlement agreements; and handwritten notes. He argued attorney-client protections should be waived now that the firm has turned over records to Hampden County District Attorney William M. Bennett as part of a criminal investigation of former bishop Thomas L. Dupre, 70, who resigned Feb. 11.

Suspicions over how the diocese handled allegations of clergy abuse intensified after Dupre abruptly resigned hours after The Republican confronted him with allegations he molested two boys more than 25 years ago while a parish priest.

The men, now 40, have filed lawsuits, and Bennett two weeks ago announced a grand jury probe of the accusations against Dupre.

Agostini took the matter of law firm internal documents under advisement. He told lawyers he would issue a ruling along with a schedule for other motion hearings in the lawsuits, which have been consolidated.


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