Sealed Documents Will Not Be Released

By Eric Heisig
Houma Today
August 26, 2011

A Terrebonne judge ruled Friday that documents sealed as part of an ongoing lawsuit against a local priest accused of sex crimes would stay sealed.

Etienne LeBlanc was placed on administrative leave as pastor at Houma's Annunziata Church in 2007 after the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux became aware of a complaint made by Jared Ribardi. Ribardi has said, in criminal and civil complaints, that LeBlanc sexually abused him between 1991 and 1997.

The Courier and the Daily Comet sought to have the documents unsealed.

The newspapers do not ordinarily identify alleged victims of sex crimes, but Ribardi has requested that his name be made public.

Certain documents entered into the case file during discovery were sealed by Judge Timothy Ellender at the request of diocese officials. Other documents, which Ellender ruled contained sensitive information, were sealed in 2009.

The documents include a private investigator's report into allegations made against LeBlanc, as well as medical reports and correspondence within the diocese. The diocese had previously argued that these documents contained references to people interviewed during the investigation.

Ellender ruled Friday that the newspapers' arguments had no merit, and the documents would stay sealed.

The Courier, represented by New Orleans attorney Loretta Mince, argued that the documents should be open to the public, and that the names of people interviewed could be blocked out.

"The Houma Courier does not oppose the redaction of third parties," Mince said in court. "But it's clear the public has a legitimate interest in the allegations, as well as what the diocese did as a result of the allegations."

The diocese, represented Friday by Don Richard and Tom Watkins, argued that even if the names were redacted, other information within the documents was included with an expectation of privacy.

"It's not just the names," Richard said. "It's the names and situations explained there."

Richard said when Ribardi, whose name was not mentioned during the hearing, was interviewed, he took great pains to not identify any other possible victims.

"(The documents) are highly prejudicial," Richard said "These are (people) that may not even want to be involved."

One of Ribardi's attorneys, Duke Williams of Houma, was present at the hearing, but merely as a spectator. He said that he has not taken a side in the issue. Arthur Leman, who represents LeBlanc, was also present at the hearing.

During the hearing, Ellender said unsealing the documents could taint a potential jury pool. However, Mince said the case has already received extensive coverage, and attorneys will have to address those issues as potential jurors are interviewed.

"In this case, the facts have been widely reported," Mince said. "The jurors, who may be newspaper readers, may already know the facts."


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