WKBW [Buffalo NY]
November 15, 2023
By Sean Mickey
“The world has a right to know”.
The 7 News I-Team joined an amici curiae brief Tuesday in the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo’s lawsuit against the State Attorney General’s Office.
The brief was filed in support of the AG’s office determination to release 25,000 pages of documents subpoenaed during its investigation into the diocese’s handling of child sexual abuse. It was filed jointly with The Buffalo News and its reporter Jay Tokasz.
Tokasz and 7 News I-Team Reporter Sean Mickey submitted affidavits accompanying the brief. Both news organizations are represented by Finnerty Osterreicher & Abdulla.
The I-Team and Tokasz each submitted Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests to the AG’s office for the subpoenaed documents. The diocese’s lawyers filed an Article 78 petition in New York County State Supreme Court last month in an attempt to block the release.
As surrogates for the public, both news organizations rely on FOIL to gather and disseminate information of public concern. Each has a strong interest to ensure laws regarding public access are properly interpreted and respected.
In its lawsuit, diocese lawyers argue the release of documents would interfere with the diocese’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings and cause “substantial injury” to its “competitive position.”
“There is no basis for that,” said 7 News’ attorney Karim A. Abdulla. “I think it’s really an unsustainable and ridiculous position.”
For such an exemption to apply, the records would need to have been submitted by a commercial entity, the party would need to show actual competition, and that such release would result in injury.
The diocese made a similar argument to the AG’s office in an appeal that was subsequently rejected.
In a statement, Buffalo Diocese Chief Operating Officer Rick Suchan claimed the suit was filed “to protect victim-survivors.” However, multiple survivors who’ve spoken with 7 News expressed the need for transparency and for the documents to become public.
Abuse survivor and a founder of the Buffalo Survivors Group, Kevin Koscielniak disagrees with the diocese’s assertion. “Bring all this out,” said Koscielniak. “The world has a right to know. The people of Buffalo need to know what this institution is really about.”
“It’s not just about us knowing, survivors knowing what’s going on, but the public really has to have an understanding of what’s going on as well,” Koscielniak added.
The brief argues the critical importance of FOIL for preserving information and keeping the public informed. It further argues that the diocese’s documents are now public record, not confidential records and should be disclosed in the public interest.
It also details the history of cover-up in the Buffalo Diocese sex abuse scandal and the desire of the public — both victims and non-victims — for transparency.
“Well that’s what I’m going to commit to is certainly full transparency and accountability,” Bishop Michael W. Fisher said the day he was appointed.
“The diocese has made arguments that they’re trying to be transparent only for it to be later revealed that they weren’t transparent,” said Abdulla.
In May, the I-Team uncovered a failed attempt by the diocese to keep secret transcripts of sworn testimony by former Bishop Richard J. Malone and Auxiliary Bishop Edward M. Grosz, as well as internal diocese documents referenced within the transcripts.
The diocese spent tens of thousands of dollars appealing the release of those records by the AG’s office to the I-Team. In that instance, after losing its appeal, the diocese did not pursue a lawsuit.
“I hope the judge understands that the release of these documents is important not only from a public policy perspective but also for a healing perspective when it comes to the citizens of Western New York,” said Abdulla. “So [survivors] can be able to know the truth, understand that people know the truth and that they can move on with their lives,” he added.
A return date is set for Nov. 22 in New York.
Read the brief here:
The 7 News I-Team broke multiple stories about the mishandling of sexual abuse cases within the Buffalo Diocese. Learn more about our investigation and Fall From Grace here:
Sean Mickey is an Investigative Reporter for WKBW.
Have a tip for the I-Team? Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org