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  Court Refuses to Open Records in Priest's Case

By Austin
United Press International
June 15, 1989

The Texas Supreme Court refused to order the unsealing of court records in a case involving a Roman Catholic priest accused of sexually molesting two young boys.

The court, without issuing an opinion, Wednesday declined to consider the attempt by the San Antonio Express-News and two of its reporters to unseal records of a civil lawsuit filed by the family of the boys last year against the Rev. Federico Fernandez, the order of Franciscan priests to which he belongs and the Archdiocese of San Antonio.

The case became controversial after settlement of the lawsuit was followed by dismissal of criminal charges of indecency with a child.

State District Judge Susan Reed of San Antonio, who had refused to accept a proposed plea agreement in the case, criticized Bexar County District Attorney Fred Rodriguez for later dropping the charges.

Reed suggested at the time that the lawsuit settlement, in which the youths were paid an undisclosed amount of cash, also might have included an improper agreement to settle the criminal charges.

Wednesday's ruling upholds an order by state District Judge Carolyn Spears on Sept. 16 -- the same date formal judgment was rendered in the civil lawsuit -- to seal all records in the case.

The Express-News had argued that Spears violated the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of the press and other constitutional rights.

Nancy Monson, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said she was disappointed in the ruling.

"We feel that the sealing of court records is one of the biggest threats to the public's right to know," Monson said.

 
 

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