Peek at File Guides Inquiry
Ex-Priest: A Deal with the Inland Diocese Lets Riverside County Prosecutors See Records

By Michael Fisher
The Press-Enterprise [California]
August 2, 2005

Riverside County prosecutors said Monday that they intend to seek documents from a defrocked priest's personnel file, which they examined last month as part of an agreement with the Diocese of San Bernardino.

The file, which remains sealed before a Riverside County judge, was confiscated Jan. 25 when authorities served a search warrant at the diocese's San Bernardino headquarters as part of an investigation into Jesus Armando Dominguez, a former priest now facing 58 child-molestation charges. The diocese encompasses Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

The search has been challenged by the diocese, which described some of the seized records as privileged and confidential.

The district attorney's office and diocesan officials acknowledged Monday that they had struck an accord that allowed prosecutors to review Dominguez's file on July 12 to see what, if anything, might be useful in locating the former priest, now believed to be Mexico, or prosecuting him.

Both sides had previously declined to discuss the agreement.

Assistant District Attorney Rod Pacheco said his office will file motions seeking to secure some of the records. He gave no time estimate as to when that might occur.

"We'll fight it out in court," said Pacheco, who declined to discuss what prosecutors uncovered during their three-hour, closed-door examination of Dominguez's file. "I know they are still opposed to us receiving the documents."

The Rev. Howard Lincoln, spokesman for the San Bernardino Diocese, said he could not comment on possible future filings by prosecutors.

"We agreed to the DA's review of our file because our diocese wishes to cooperate with the investigation. We wish to see the prosecution of any child molester to the fullest extent of the law," Lincoln said.

Dominguez, 56, is accused of molesting two teenage boys at Catholic churches in Coachella and Perris in the late 1980s. He worked in the diocese from 1978 to 1993 and left the priesthood in 2000.

Lincoln declined to discuss whether the prosecutors' review of the file will create a precedent for future cases in which authorities ask to examine diocesan personnel files.

Jody Armour, a professor at USC's School of Law, said the decision may have weakened future attempts by the diocese to keep Dominguez's file or others confidential.

"They're in a tough spot. Maybe they have some strong legal rights that should be protected in this case, but by asserting those rights, they may undermine the public's confidence in them," Armour said.