Opinion in John Doe 1 ET Al. V. Franciscan Friars of California, Inc.

Court of Appeal of the State of California
September 30, 2010

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This consolidated appeal arises from lawsuits in which 25 plaintiffs sued defendant the Franciscan Friars of California, Inc. (the Franciscans) alleging they had been sexually abused by Franciscan brothers. In a settlement of the lawsuits, plaintiffs and the Franciscans asked the court to retain jurisdiction to determine if it was appropriate to publicly release confidential files of the alleged perpetrators, appellants Samuel Charles Cabot, Mario Cimmarusti, David Johnson, Gus Krumm, Gary Pacheco, and Robert Van Handel (the Individual Friars). We hold that compelling social interests in protecting children from molestation outweigh the Individual Friars? privacy rights, and the trial court correctly ordered the public release of psychiatric and other confidential records in the possession of the Franciscans.

Factual and Procedural Background

1. The settlement agreement

In 25 separate lawsuits, plaintiffs alleged they had been sexually abused by members of the clergy, including the Individual Friars.1 During the pendency of the proceedings, the Franciscans produced some personnel files and other confidential files of the Individual Friars to the trial court and plaintiffs, along with various privilege logs. The Franciscans also submitted deposition transcripts with redactions. On May 25, 2006, the Franciscans and plaintiffs entered into a written settlement agreement. The agreement required the Franciscans and another named defendant, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Los Angeles, to pay the total sum of $28,450,000 to plaintiffs. The Individual Friars were not named defendants in all 25 lawsuits, and most of them did not sign the settlement agreement.

Paragraph 15 of the settlement agreement established a procedure for a hearing officer to decide whether the Franciscans? confidential files concerning the Individual Friars could be released to the public. The Franciscans agreed to produce to plaintiffs and lodge with the court the files of any alleged perpetrator, all documents previously withheld from plaintiffs as identified in privilege logs relating to childhood sexual abuse, deposition testimony, and any new privilege logs reflecting withheld documents. After the Franciscans submitted the documents to the hearing officer, the Franciscans had 15 days to “provide appropriate notice of the potential release of such documents to any [alleged perpetrator], and/or any affected third parties [who had the right to] submit his or her objection(s) . . . .” The hearing officer would then hold a hearing and determine which redactions, withholdings, or objections would be disallowed and which if any documents could be released to the public. The parties agreed that no redacted or withheld document would be released unless authorized by the hearing officer.


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