SNAP defamed St. Louis priest, federal judge says
By Joel Currier
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
August 23, 2016
ST. LOUIS • Exasperated by nearly two months of defiance of a court order to supply details about people making sexual abuse claims against a St. Louis priest, U.S. District Judge Carol E. Jackson dealt a heavy blow this week to the advocacy group SNAP and others.
In an order filed Monday in a suit by the Rev. Xiu Hui “Joseph” Jiang, Jackson says that SNAP’s refusal to comply has made it impossible for the priest to “litigate the claims against him.”
So as a sanction, Jackson in effect allowed Jiang to prevail on his claim that SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, defamed him and conspired against him.
Jackson said the court will direct that it has been established that SNAP defendants did conspire together “to obtain plaintiff’s conviction on sexual abuse charges” and that it was because of “discriminatory animus against plaintiff based on his religion, religious vocation, race, and national origin.”
Likewise, she said the court will direct that it has been established that SNAP’s public statements “were false and that they did not conduct any inquiry into the truth or falsity of these public statements, but instead made these statements negligently and with reckless disregard for the truth.”
Jiang filed a defamation suit last year against the boy’s parents, police and SNAP leaders David Clohessy and Barbara Dorris, claiming they conspired against him for monetary gain, and that police went after him because of his religious and racial background. He had been named on criminal charges that were later dropped.
Jackson’s sanctions appear to apply specifically to SNAP.
She had ordered June 27 that SNAP provide detailed information about people making complaints against Jiang. The organization responded with arguments of what the judge called a “rape crisis center privilege” to protect the information. Jackson wrote that it does not exist.
She said SNAP neither produced the information ordered nor defended itself beyond “repeated assertions of a nonexistent privilege.”
Her original order said that SNAP must hand over emails, text messages and contact information of people who accused Jiang of sexually abusing a boy in a Catholic school bathroom, resulting in charges that were dropped.
Jiang was previously accused of having improper contact with a teenage girl from Lincoln County who attended the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, where Jiang was associate pastor. Charges of child endangerment and witness tampering — Jiang had been accused of leaving a $20,000 check for the family as hush money — were dismissed in 2013.
In Monday’s order, the judge seemed to outline other avenues for SNAP, pointing out that it had not “proposed targeted redactions of names of third-party victims or attorneys-eyes-only disclosures.” SNAP contends it has turned over “hundreds of pages” of redacted documents to Jiang’s lawyers.
It could have been worse for SNAP, the order suggests, noting that because of “deliberate and willful refusal to comply,” she could have entered a default judgment against the organization. She said that her findings on key points is “a lesser but equally effective sanction.”
Her order says that SNAP must pay “reasonable expenses, including attorneys’ fees” generated by the defiance.
SNAP also has refused Jackson’s order to turn over all records of donations to the organization from the law firm Chackes, Carlson & Gorovosky, which has handled clergy sex abuse cases. The firm, according to David Clohessy, SNAP’s executive director, did donate to SNAP from 2005-12 but never represented the organization. He said he doesn’t know why Jiang’s lawyers want that information.
Clohessy said Jackson’s order is a “worrisome” setback but that SNAP respects the court’s authority.
He said he isn’t sure what SNAP will do but believes the organization did what it believes it had to do to protect victims. He said he won’t know until the court-imposed Sept. 1 deadline to find out how much of Jiang’s legal bills the organization will have to cover.
“That’s obviously a concern but it’s less a concern for us than the ability of victims and alleged victims to report predators and be protected,” he told the Post-Dispatch. “We’ll keep fighting, you know. We have no choice.”
Clohessy said he wasn’t sure if SNAP would still be required to turn over the identities of alleged victim but that the group still believes doing so will deter others from coming forward to police, prosecutors, therapists and support groups.
Jiang’s lawsuit, Clohessy says, seeks “to make sure that yet another alleged victim, witness or whistleblower stays silent,” Clohessy said.
Jiang’s lawyer, John Sauer, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
It remains unclear if Jackson’s ruling absolves SNAP from providing Jiang’s legal team with the identities of alleged abuse victims.
SNAP’s lawyer, Amy Lorenz-Moser, said SNAP is considering an appeal.
“It’s not over,” she said.
Peter Joy, a Washington University law professor, says the order sanctioning SNAP is unusual because it appears to side with Jiang while rendering SNAP’s obligation to turn over evidence moot resulting from the group’s refusal to do so.
“I think it’s going to be tough for them to win on appeal,” Joy said. “At this point, they’ve lost not based on having the underlying complaint fully litigated but by basically failing to comply with the judge’s discovery order.”