Fighting for 'Right to Know'
Joliet Diocese Case: Arguments over Shielded Documents and Testimony

By Ted Slowik
The Herald News
February 2, 2006

WHEATON — Prominent attorneys are scheduled to pack a DuPage County courtroom today in a bid to convince a judge to modify a protective order that shields documents and testimony about a former Joliet Diocese priest accused of sexually abusing a young boy.

Advocates for the alleged victim hope to persuade Judge Stephen Culliton to amend his order so that the Aug. 11 deposition of Joliet Bishop Joseph Imesch would be made public. Imesch testified under oath about Ed Stefanich, who was removed from the priesthood after he was convicted of sexually abusing a 14-year-old Woodridge girl in 1987.

A Glen Ellyn man in his 40s sued the diocese in 2003, saying he recently recalled repressed memories of alleged abuse by Stefanich while at Christ the King parish in Lombard about 35 years ago.

Two other parties, the Chicago Tribune and the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault, have joined the lawsuit on the alleged victim's behalf.

The judge is allowing lawyers for the other parties to plead at today's hearing.

Scheduled to represent the coalition is Marci Hamilton, a constitutional law professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo Law School at Yeshiva University in New York. Her biography describes her as a frequent adviser to Congress and an international expert on constitutional and copyright law.

She worked as a law clerk for retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and has appeared regularly on the Court TV cable channel. Her latest book is, "God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law."

Representing the Chicago Tribune is Don Craven, general counsel for the Illinois Press Association and the Illinois News Broadcasters Association. His Springfield-based law firm is well-known for advocating First Amendment rights.

The plaintiff's attorneys are Michael Brooks of Chicago and Jeff Anderson of Minneapolis. Anderson has represented hundreds of people sexually abused by Catholic priests across the nation. On Tuesday, Anderson filed a landmark lawsuit seeking to force the Archdiocese of Chicago to disclose the names of all priests accused of sexual misconduct with minors over the past 50 years.

The diocese will be represented by its longtime attorney, James Byrne of Joliet.

Brooks and Anderson will argue that Culliton's Aug. 8 order does not accurately reflect the judge's decision of the day. Both sides agreed that the identity of the plaintiff and other alleged victims should not be made public.

The Glen Ellyn man's attorneys believe this can be accomplished by redacting, or blacking out, the names of alleged victims and other sensitive information, according to briefs filed with the court.

The Tribune will argue that "the childhood sexual abuse of plaintiff by a diocese priest is of great public interest," and that the public has a right to know how the diocese has handled allegations of sexual abuse by priests.

In its response, the diocese is arguing that pre-trial publicity is "oppressive" and creating a "disadvantage" for the diocese to defend itself.

"The primary focus of the discovery in this case should be what some prior bishop did, or did not do, 35 years ago. The focus has been what Bishop Imesch may, or may not have done, decades after plaintiff was abused," Byrne wrote in a court brief.

Imesch has headed the Joliet Diocese since 1979 and is set to step down when he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 75 years on June 21.

In another court case involving the diocese, Byrne said through diocesan spokesman Tom Kerber that today he would ask for a rehearing before the 3rd District Appellate Court in Ottawa regarding a recent ruling that favors alleged victims.

The appellate court ruled 2-1 in January that the statute of limitations does not prevent people from filing claims against the diocese decades after alleged abuses happened if the victims didn't fully realize the lasting psychological harm caused by the incidents.

- Contact Ted Slowik at (815) 729-6053 or at


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.