St. Paul Archdiocese Gets More Time for Some Priest Filings
By Emily Gurnon
March 27, 2014
|Depositions of top church officials, including Archbishop John Nienstedt, will go on as scheduled. (Pioneer Press file photo: John Doman)|
The Twin Cities archdiocese has gained more time to turn over documents related to priests "credibly accused" of sexually abusing minors, but the depositions of top officials will take place as scheduled.
During a lengthy hearing Thursday in Ramsey County District Court, attorneys in the case of Doe 1 disagreed about whether the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis should be held to a judicially mandated deadline of Monday to turn over certain files that will not be under seal.
Judge John Van de North had ordered church officials to disclose all files by the end of the day Monday relating to 33 priests "credibly accused" before 2004.
But attorneys for the archdiocese said that a wholesale disclosure was impossible -- they said the files contain victim names and information subject to attorney-client privilege. Some of that will need to be designated nonpublic, they said.
"We want to try to do this, but we physically cannot do this," while protecting the names of victims, said archdiocese attorney Daniel Haws. He said "many, many lawyers" from "many" firms have been working on the matter.
Haws said 45,000 documents had been copied in preparation for disclosure.
Attorneys for Doe 1, Jeff Anderson and Michael Finnegan, argued that the church officials have had plenty of time to produce the files.
Anderson said the church's claim of concern for the abuse survivors was disingenuous.
"You've never been concerned about protecting the survivors," he said to the archdiocese lawyers prior to the hearing's start.
The timing is critical for the plaintiffs.
Anderson and his team plan to depose Archbishop John Nienstedt on Wednesday. They wanted the files on the credibly accused priests so they could pose questions regarding Nienstedt's involvement with those cases.
Attorneys agreed after discussion that the archdiocese would turn over Monday only those files related to the period, beginning in 2007, when Nienstedt was in charge. That would include information on former Blessed Sacrament priest Curtis Wehmeyer, convicted of child sex abuse, and Jonathan Shelley, a priest investigated on suspicion of having child pornography on a computer. Shelley was not charged in the case.
Longtime top official Kevin McDonough will be deposed April 16. Anderson said he expects to receive all of the files of credibly accused priests by that time.
As for the depositions themselves, "It's not our intent to seal the entirety of the depositions," Haws said.
Anderson said his firm "know(s) how to conduct a deposition" and will keep victims' names and other identifying information out of what it releases to the public. After the hearing, Anderson estimated he would release depositions to the media within about 30 days of when they are taken.
The participants agreed to other scheduling dates, including a trial date of Sept. 22.
Van de North delegated to retired judge Robert Schumacher certain contentious issues in the case. Schumacher, serving as a "special master," will meet with attorneys from both sides. He will determine, among other things, whether church attorneys should be allowed to depose Doe 1's parents -- who do not know of his alleged abuse by former priest Thomas Adamson.
Jim Accurso, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said in a written statement the archdiocese was pleased with the outcome of the hearing and looked forward to continued progress in the case.
Van de North previously ordered the archdiocese, as well as the Diocese of Winona, to disclose under seal a list of priests accused since 2004. Those names remain sealed.
Emily Gurnon can be reached at 651-228-5522.