Judge fines New Orleans lawyer $400K for allegedly revealing information about accused priest

Nola.com [New Orleans, LA]

October 12, 2022

By John Simerman

Order says attorney violated protective order by revealing information given about chaplain in Archdiocese of New Orleans’ bankruptcy case

A federal bankruptcy judge in New Orleans leveled a whopping $400,000 penalty Tuesday against a lawyer for clergy abuse survivors who allegedly revealed protected information about a priest to a Catholic school principal and a news reporter.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Meredith Grabill issued the sanctions against attorney Richard Trahant in a 30-page order, claiming he wrongfully disclosed information from discovery materials handed over in December in the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ bankruptcy case.

The information related to the Rev. Paul Hart, then chaplain at Brother Martin High School.

Hart left his post in early January, days after the school was notified of allegations from 1990 that he kissed and fondled a Mount Carmel Academy senior while serving at another local Catholic institution. It wasn’t the embattled archdiocese that first alerted the school, however.

Trahant admitted that he called the school principal, who is a cousin, after learning of the allegations involving Hart, who was not identified on the archdiocese’s public list of credibly accused priests. Trahant also admitted he alerted a reporter for The Advocate to Hart’s identity.

Hart was assigned in 2017 by Archbishop Gregory Aymond to serve as the school’s chaplain, after a church investigation four years earlier confirmed the allegations but determined the student was not a minor under church law.

Trahant insisted that he didn’t reveal any confidential documents, but admitted he “planted that seed” to expose Hart. He has argued that he didn’t violate the court’s protective order at all.

“In no uncertain terms, I did what I did to protect children. I provided no documents. I read no documents to anyone,” said Trahant on Tuesday, adding that he would appeal the sanctions.

Grabill, however, found that his actions violated the protective order and caused harm, including “hurt and trauma revisited upon the survivor of the priest’s alleged abuse.”

The judge also cited Trahant for failing to promptly come clean, resulting in a costly investigation by the U.S. Trustee, a court officer who acts as a neutral representative of the Justice Department in bankruptcy case.

In court, Trahant told the judge he was “personally offended that I’m the bad actor, I’m the bad guy here, when there are pedophiles walking around who have never been arrested, convicted, nothing has happened to them.”

In June, Grabill removed Trahant from the court-appointed committee representing about 450 victims of sexual abuse by clergy in the bankruptcy case. Grabill’s new order calls for him to pay the sanction to the archdiocese within 30 days. She set a Nov. 21 hearing date “to assess compliance.”

“We believe the wisdom of the judge’s ruling speaks for itself,” a spokesman for the archdiocese said in a statement.