Arizona Judge Nixes Gallup Diocese's Limit of Witnesses, Discovery
By Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola
September 11, 2012
FLAGSTAFF — An Arizona judge has ruled against the Diocese of Gallup on two important issues in the “Route 66” priest sex abuse lawsuit the diocese is fighting in a Flagstaff courtroom.
On Aug. 31, Coconino County Superior Court Judge Mark R. Moran denied two requests by attorneys for the Gallup Diocese that would have severely limited the plaintiff’s attorney from obtaining discovery information about sexual abuse that has occurred in the diocese, limited witnesses the plaintiff’s attorney could interview in depositions, and limited the scope of those deposition interviews.
The lawsuit was filed two years ago by Phoenix attorney Robert E. Pastor on behalf of a man in his early 70s who claims he was sexually abused as a child when he served as an altar boy for the Rev. Clement Hageman in Holbrook, Ariz. The plaintiff claims he repressed memories of the abuse for decades until a 2007 trip through Gallup triggered the memories. Although the diocese has stipulated Hageman “more probably than not” sexually abused the plaintiff in 1952 as claimed, the lawsuit is centered around the plaintiff’s argument that Arizona’s statute of limitations for civil claims should be tolled — legally suspended — because the Gallup Diocese fraudulently concealed information about Hageman’s sexual abuse for more than 60 years.
In April, diocesan attorney Keith Ricker requested a protective order from the court barring discovery of post-1952 information about sexual abuse in the diocese, barring discovery of what the diocese “knew or allegedly should have known” about post-1952 sexual abuse, and barring discovery of information about the diocese’s post-1952 “policies and procedures for addressing claims of clergy sexual misconduct.” In addition, Ricker requested the court limit who Pastor could interview in depositions and the scope of those deposition interviews.
Trying to prevent the discovery of post-1952 clergy abuse information was an important piece of the diocese’s legal defense strategy. No one who worked in the diocese in 1952 is still alive to testify about that time period. And although the plaintiff was sexually abused by Hageman in 1952, evidence from the diocese’s personnel file on Hageman and allegations by other abuse victims indicate the priest continued to abuse children in rural Catholic parishes in Arizona for 23 more years — up until his death in Winslow in 1975.
At least 18 other Gallup priests have been publicly accused of sexually abusing minors since Hageman abused the plaintiff in 1952.
In his ruling, Moran dismantled the diocese’s argument that post-1952 information about Hageman and other sexually abusive clergy in the Gallup Diocese was not relevant to the plaintiff’s claims.
Citing a number of the plaintiff’s allegations, Moran wrote: “All of these allegations are directly relevant to the Plaintiff’s burden to prove that the Defendant acted with an evil mind in its policies, procedures, and employment of Father Hageman. These factors are no less relevant on the issue of punitive damages because they occurred after the abuse of the Plaintiff. If anything, they become more relevant to demonstrate that even with actual knowledge that Father Hageman was abusing boys, the Defendant continued to allow him to serve in the church, and continued to cover up his abuse to prevent harm to the church.”
Moran added these factors “go directly to support the Plaintiff’s claims for punitive damages and fraudulent concealment.”
Moran also denied Ricker’s attempt to limit Pastor’s access to specific witnesses in deposition interviews. Citing Rule 30(b)(6) of the Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure, Ricker requested the court require the plaintiff’s attorney to identify “with reasonable particularity the matters on which examination is requested” and allow diocesan officials to designate who they wanted to answer those questions.
Moran ruled that legal provision did not apply to this case.
“The rule and comment to the rule clearly state that this procedure is appropriate when a party does not know whom it wishes to depose,” Moran said. “Here, the Plaintiff has named individuals within the Defendant’s organization that he wishes to depose because he believes that they do have knowledge on relevant matters.”
According to Ricker’s motion for protective order, the Diocese of Gallup wanted to prevent Pastor from conducting deposition interviews with other known abuse victims of Hageman and at least a dozen diocesan officials who have specific knowledge about Hageman, other abusive Gallup clergy, or policies and procedures regarding clergy sexual misconduct in the diocese.
Reporter Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola can be contacted at (505) 870-0745 or firstname.lastname@example.org