Lawyers for Accuser Get Priest's Counseling Records

By Brendan Kirby
The Press-Register [Alabama]
November 18, 2006

Catholic Church officials have turned over records from a Foley priest's psychological counseling sessions to the plaintiff's lawyers in a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Mobile, complying with an Alabama Supreme Court order last week.

Steve Martino, who represents plaintiff Linda Ledet, said he believes the Rev. Paul Zoghby's counseling records help his client's case. Ledet has alleged that the archdiocese reneged on its agreement to pay for her treatment following what she describes as sexual harassment by Zoghby.

But Martino said he could not reveal the contents of documents because Mobile County Circuit Judge Sarah Stewart has ordered both sides not to divulge the records to anyone else.

It also remains unclear whether Martino ever will able to present those records to a jury, which will hear the allegations in January.

"It still has to be admissible at trial and relevant. Right now, the court hasn't ruled on any of the evidence," he said.

Officials from the archdiocese and its attorney, Grey Redditt, could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Vince Kilborn III, a lawyer who represents Zoghby, predicted his client's counseling records never will see the light of day in a courtroom.

"I don't think that the information is going to be relevant to the case, because it is a breach of contract (lawsuit)," he said.

In fact, Kilborn added, the "documents prove the plaintiff is wrong in her case. ... I think what's going to happen is the whole thing is going to backfire on the plaintiffs."

Martino disagreed, although he added that information from Zoghby's sessions will not make or break his client's case.

"It's just more of the same. ... It's just a missing piece," he said. "I can't characterize it as a bombshell or a smoking gun or anything like that."

Zoghby is not a defendant in the lawsuit. But he asked the Supreme Court to block release of the records, arguing they were protected by the clergyman-parishioner privilege. Zoghby received counseling at a monastery in New York state and gave records from those sessions to Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb.

Although Zoghby acknowledged in court filings that giving the records to Lipscomb waived the psychotherapist-patient privilege, Zoghby argued the documents should not be turned over to the Ledet's lawyers because of the clergyman-parishioner privilege.

But the high court ruled 8-1 that the clergyman privilege does not apply because Lipscomb was acting not as Zoghby's spiritual adviser but in his role as an administrator trying to determine if the priest was fit to return to duty.

Ledet and her husband and children were parishioners at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Mobile, where Zoghby was an associate pastor, from 1995 to 2001. According to the civil complaint she filed in 2004, Zoghby began in 1997 trying to force her to have sex with him and making unwanted and inappropriate sexual advances toward her.

After initially denying the allegations, Zoghby in 2002 recanted and admitted misconduct, according to Lipscomb's account contained in the Supreme Court ruling. Ledet agreed not to publicize the matter in exchange for a promise that Zoghby would receive intensive therapy and that he would be placed in a position where he could not harm others, according to her account.

In 2003, however, Ledet learned that Zoghby has returned to his ministry and had been promoted to pastor of St. Margaret of Scotland Catholic Church in Foley.

The revelation caused Ledet "emotional trauma," and she sought treatment at several facilities. But the archdiocese refused to pay the bill, according to her allegations.

According to Justice Lyn Stuart's majority opinion, the court ruled that Zoghby had waived any privilege of confidentiality.

Justice Tom Parker dissented, arguing that his colleagues interpreted the "clergyman privilege" much too narrowly.

"Because of the rehabilitative purpose and nature of Church discipline, I do not believe Archbishop Lipscomb's roles here as investigator, supervisor, and spiritual adviser can be as neatly compartmentalized as the majority opinion implies," he wrote.

Kilborn said Friday that his client's counseling records are "solely being used by the plaintiffs to try to embarrass Father Zoghby and for no other reason."

Kilborn also said Zoghby is prepared to testify if called to do so.

"There was absolutely no abuse of this lady," he said.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.