Abuse Files to Be Unsealed
Judge's Ruling: Joliet Diocese Able to Give Records to State's Attorneys
By Ted Slowik firstname.lastname@example.org
The Herald News
May 2, 2002
JOLIET — A judge's ruling Wednesday clears the way for the Joliet Diocese to tell state's attorneys in Will and DuPage counties about priests accused of sexual misconduct with minors.
But Will County Judge Herman Haase has yet to decide whether to make the information available to the media and the public.
The diocese said last week it was willing to tell prosecutors about 16 priests accused of sexual abuses dating back to 1970. The state's attorneys say the diocese has cooperated by sharing information about cases since 1994, when Haase agreed to the diocese's request to seal documents contained in civil court cases against the diocese.
Wednesday's action was necessary to allow the diocese to hand over documents and information about cases between 1970 and 1994, diocesan attorney James Byrne said.
"We want documents handed over to civil authorities as soon as possible," Byrne said. "The diocese has voluntarily agreed to turn over records of allegations from 1994 to the present date."
Prosecutors and investigators will use the information to determine whether criminal charges can be pursued against any individual accused of sexual abuse. They may also assess whether diocesan officials, in their roles as school personnel, complied with the Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act of 1975 by reporting suspicions of abuse to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
Six priests associated with the Joliet Diocese have been suspended from their ministries in the past month because of past allegations of sexual abuse.
Haase will hear more arguments Monday and is expected to rule June 6 on Joliet attorney Keith Aeschliman's request to make all the sealed files available to the public.
"There's nothing transparent about the records," said Aeschliman, who believes the diocese is using every legal means possible to maintain secrecy about abuse allegations.
"It's pretty disingenuous for the diocese to remove six priests because of credible allegations that were reported previously. Why only now are they removing priests?" he said.
Request for public viewing
Attorneys for two other clients are asking Haase to unseal all the files. Natalie Spears, an attorney for Chicago Tribune Co., argued on First Amendment grounds that the documents should be made available to the public as soon as possible.
"If the files are allowed to remain secret, it fosters the unhealthy notion that court proceedings are being conducted in secrecy," Spears said.
Joliet attorney Michael Bolos argued that he needed access to the sealed files to investigate a client's potential civil suit against the diocese.
"There's an awful lot of tantalizing hints out there," Bolos said. Byrne, the diocese's attorney, argued that other attorneys have filed civil suits against the diocese without access to the files.
Bolos replied that he could determine whether his client's case had merit by viewing the files, "rather that making Mr. Byrne needlessly wealthy from the diocese's money by defending discovery motions."
Haase said he would consider the attorneys' motions on June 6 to give the diocese time to respond. He cautioned that the files may not contain as many depositions, transcripts of interviews with witnesses and other evidence as expected.
"My recollection is that a lot of what was involved, the discovery matter, was turned back to the parties involved. We don't keep that," Haase said.
Haase told Aeschliman that on March 28, he acted on a request made to the circuit court clerk to impound some documents that had been available for public inspection. Byrne all but admitted that he viewed the files and made the request.
"The clerk has a continuing duty to obey the court order. The clerk should be impounding documents as they are filed," Byrne said.
In a statement released later Wednesday afternoon, diocesan officials said they are "committed to cooperating fully with civil authorities on this issue while respecting the privacy of individuals. ..."
"However, we have requested that certain documents remain under the court's Protective Order to continue to ensure the privacy of individuals, including alleged victims of sexual abuse, parents and family members of victims, who previously gave deposition testimony based on the Protective Order.
Haase said he also would consider on June 6 the diocese's request to sanction individuals that violate the court order by sharing information about sealed items.
"It's obvious that deposition testimony is being reported in newspapers," Byrne said. "If the judicial system is to work at all ... people should be complying with (court orders)."
Ted Slowik can be reached at (815) 729-6053 or via e-mail at email@example.com.
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