Priests' Files May Be Released in Sex Abuse Lawsuits
Judge Plans to Include Employment Records, Defendants' Names
CNN [San Francisco CA]
October 13, 2004
SAN FRANCISCO, California (AP) -- A judge indicated Tuesday he intends to make public the employment files of Roman Catholic priests accused of sexual abuse.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Ronald M. Sabraw said he will hear arguments Wednesday on his tentative order, then issue a final decision affecting documents in 160 consolidated civil cases against northern California dioceses.
The documents had been sought by media organizations that had argued for public access to the internal church files of alleged pedophile priests.
Sabraw said the content of the employment files "is a matter of public concern and interest and outweighs privacy interests of the defendants."
Defendants' names and names of alleged victims would also be released. Medical and psychiatric records would remain confidential.
"The most important documents for us were documents concerning the individual defendants, and it appears to me that those documents will be made available to us," said lawyer Judy Alexander, who represents The New York Times Co., publisher of The Press Democrat of Santa Rosa.
Releasing the personnel records means the public will get "both sides of the story," said Rick Simons, the lead plaintiffs' attorney.
Telephone messages left for two church attorneys were not immediately returned.
The judge's ruling applies to personnel files of about 40 priests who are targeted in the civil suits.
Last month, a Southern California judge ordered the Los Angeles Archdiocese to surrender the confidential records of two former priests being investigated by a grand jury. He said the archdiocese cannot withhold potential evidence or proof of clerical sexual abuse by claiming communications between priests and bishops are confidential.
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