Saturday, November 8, 2003

Church argues records private

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati wants to bar the public from a court hearing next week that will determine whether prosecutors can see church records related to clergy sexual abuse.

The request to close the hearing in the Ohio 1st District Court of Appeals is the latest attempt by church officials to protect documents they claim are private communications with their lawyers.

Hamilton County prosecutors say the documents may be crucial in their investigation of priests accused of sexual misconduct.

Appeals court officials say requests to close public hearings are rare - they cannot recall such a request in nearly 30 years - and prosecutors say there is no legal justification to keep the public out.

"There is no reason in law or fact to close it," said Prosecutor Mike Allen, who filed a brief Friday asking the appeals judges to keep the hearing open. "There is no precedent for it."

Church officials said the hearing should be closed because the dispute with prosecutors is part of a grand jury investigation. Since grand jury proceedings are secret, they say, the legal arguments about church records also should be secret.

"If we're asking for something that hasn't been done before, it's because we think it's warranted," said archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco.

The dispute began more than 18 months ago when prosecutors launched an investigation into abuse claims against priests.

Archdiocese officials have said most records related to abuse already have been given to prosecutors, but they contend some records are protected by attorney-client privilege and should remain private.

The judges will hear arguments Wednesday.

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