Attorneys in St. Pius Bullying Lawsuit Want Baldwin District Attorney Held in …
By Hallie Dixon
School Bullying Council
March 19, 2015
Lawyers for a former St. Pius X School student who alleges that administrators failed to stop her severe bullying have asked a judge to hold Baldwin County’s district attorney in contempt for failing to appear at a deposition last week.
The judge in the case on Monday set a March 20 hearing to consider that and other motions.
The plaintiff’s lawyers subpoenaed Baldwin County District Attorney Hallie Dixon in order to ask her questions about a report she received regarding an allegation that the pastor had an improper relationship with a teenager when he was a priest in Baldwin County.
Dixon did not appear at the deposition. According to the request seeking sanctions, Chief Assistant District Attorney Rushing Payne sent an email nearly an hour after the scheduled start of the deposition informing lawyers that Dixon had a court hearing in a capital murder case and would not attend.
The attorneys wrote in their contempt motion that they offered to accommodate Dixon by rescheduling the deposition for later in the day. Payne sent a follow-up email indicating that Dixon did not intend to submit to the questioning.
The filing seeks a court order for “sanctions, fees and costs” against Dixon for “willful disregard of the lawful subpoena” issued to her.
“She’s under a subpoena to appear, and she didn’t appear,” attorney David Kennedy said. “Even if you’re the district attorney, you don’t get to ignore a subpoena.”
Dixon did not return a call and a text message seeking comment. She asked Mobile County Circuit Judge Sarah Stewart last week to block the subpoena on grounds that state law protects the disclosure of investigative records and material of law enforcement authorities.
In addition, the motion states, the plaintiff’s request is excessively broad and vague.
“The District Attorney must protect the interests of her client, the State of Alabama,” Payne wrote in the filing, on behalf of Dixon. “The attorney-client privilege protects from disclosure communications between attorney and client.”
Stewart did not rule on Dixon’s request, however, and Kennedy argued that means Dixon was compelled to attend. Once at the deposition, he said, she could have declined to answer questions she believe improper and then the judge could have sorted it out later.
Instead, Kennedy said, Dixon chose to simply ignore it. He said she likely would not accept similar excuses from a witness she had subpoenaed as district attorney.
“She knows better,” he said.
In the lawsuit, one of four against the school, lawyers allege that school administrators turned a blind eye to severe bullying faced by the students. Attorneys have argued that the nine-year-old allegation against the Rev. Johnny Savoie is relevant because he oversees the school administration at St. Pius.
Attorneys have tried to find out details about the allegation and what steps the church and law enforcement authorities took to investigate it.
Dixon has said – and Payne reiterated in his court filing – that the Archdiocese of Mobile disclosed the allegation shortly after receiving it in December 2013. Dixon has said that the allegation involved a teenager who was 16 at the time when the relationship was alleged to have begun. Since that is the age of consent in Alabama, her office determined that no crime had been committed.
Savoie told his congregation about the allegation in February last year and denied that it was true, according to court records. Those documents indicate that Savoie took and passed a lie detector test.
Meanwhile, attorneys for the school have made additional written arguments to bolster their case that Savoie should not have to answer additional questions about the matter. They argue that whatever additional information would arise from such questioning is not relevant to the current lawsuit and would not be allowed into evidence.
“To allow the deposition of Father Savoie to proceed any further as to this topic would be to allow the Plaintiffs to harass and embarrass Father Savoie’s without the reasonable anticipation that any evidence or testimony discovered would be admissible or relevant to the Plaintiffs’ claims in this matter,” the defense lawyers wrote.
The judge on Monday gave lawyers in the case a March 18 deadline for submitting additional legal arguments.