LA Judge: Franciscans Must Open Some Clergy Files

Associated Press
April 2, 2009

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A judge on Thursday ordered the Franciscans, a Roman Catholic religious order, to release hundreds of pages of private personnel files and other documents as part of a clergy abuse settlement.

The order by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Peter D. Lichtman comes nearly three years after the Franciscans reached a $28 million settlement with 25 victims of sexual abuse.

Lichtman ruled that the documents must be released within 21 days, but if the order and the individual brothers named in the records appeal, the ruling could be put on hold.

An attorney for the plaintiffs said the previously undisclosed documents could reveal how long the Franciscans knew about alleged abusers and how they dealt with them. The documents also could contain the medical histories and treatment records of the accused, said Tim Hale, who represents 14 of the alleged victims.

"We're going to see things that have never been seen and there's going to be pretty damaging and dramatic information in there," Hale predicted.

Brian Brosnahan, an attorney for the Franciscan Friars of California Inc., said in a statement that Lichtman's decision to open the medical records to the public was counter-productive.

"The psychotherapist-patient privilege exists so that the patient will make full disclosure to the therapist without fear that the communications will become public information," the statement said. "This would make it much less likely that the patient will be open and truthful with the therapist, which would make it much harder to effectively supervise and treat alleged offenders."

Brosnahan said the Franciscans were considering whether to appeal the ruling.

An attorney for the individual brothers was on vacation and didn't immediately return a call Thursday.

The May 2006 settlement laid the groundwork for the Franciscans to release documents sought by the plaintiffs, including medical records, letters and personnel files. Lichtman was eventually assigned to review the contents of each document where objections were raised and decide if it could be made public.

Some of the accused brothers fought back in court, arguing that releasing their files would violate their rights to privacy, attorney-client privilege and freedom of religion.

In his order, Lichtman overruled many of those objections.

He did, however, bar the release of documents generated after the 2006 settlement. He ruled in the Franciscans' favor on several objections over doctor-patient privilege, attorney-client privilege and attorney work product.

He also agreed to redact the names of Franciscan superiors in some of the documents.

Similar legal fights are going on over priest personnel files in settlements with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the Diocese of San Diego.

The Los Angeles archdiocese settled more than 500 clergy abuse cases for a record $660 million in July 2007 and the Diocese of San Diego reached a $198 million settlement with 144 alleged victims several months later.


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