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Los Angeles

Mahony E-Mail Talks of 'Our Big Mistake'

Scandal: Archdiocese unsuccessfully seeks to block publication of messages in which he criticizes failure to give names to police.

April 05, 2002|JESSICA GARRISON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of the Los Angeles Archdiocese told one of his lawyers in a recent e-mail that the diocese made "our big mistake" by not turning over three cases involving priests accused of wrongdoing to the LAPD, according to e-mails obtained Thursday by the Los Angeles Times.

"It was a huge mistake on our part," Mahony wrote in an e-mail dated March 27. "If we don't, today, 'consult' with the Det[ective] about those 3 names, I can guarantee you that I will get hauled into a Grand Jury proceeding and I will be forced to give all the names, etc."

Since The Times reported that Mahony had released between six and 12 priests accused of sexual misconduct, the archdiocese has declined to say precisely how many priests overall have been implicated in the scandal.

For the first time, the e-mails suggest that the actual number is eight.

"If I recall, of the 8 priests involved, 5 have already been reported to local law enforcement agencies," Mahony wrote. "That leaves 3."

That and other e-mails emerged at the center of an extraordinary legal debate late Thursday night, as a lawyer for the archdiocese sought to prevent publication of e-mails between Mahony and his lawyer pertaining to the sexual misconduct of priests.

But Judge David Yaffe refused to grant the petition of Sister Judith Ann Murphy, Mahony's attorney.

"That's what I don't think the Constitution permits me to do," Yaffe said in a ruling handed down just before midnight.

Donald H. Steier, attorney for the archdiocese, said that the e-mails were protected by attorney-client privilege.

A terrible harm would be inflicted upon the archdiocese by publishing the documents, he argued, while there was no harm at all in asking the paper to wait a few days before publication.

"Whether or not it's attorney-client privilege is irrelevant," argued Kelli Sager, the lawyer representing The Times.

"The California Constitution provides an absolute right to publish." The move by the archdiocese represented a highly unusual attempt to block publication of information that it considered sensitive. Such moves, known as "prior restraints," almost never are granted by courts, and when they are, they almost inevitably are overturned on appeal.

In this case, the lawyer for the church maintained that California law prohibited the "use" of material that was illegally obtained.

Other courts have held that under similar federal laws, "use" does not include the publication or broadcast of such material, but that those who actually hack into computer systems to steal it may be held liable for their acts.

The e-mails that the archdiocese was seeking to keep secret include communications between Mahony and his staff, including his lawyers.

In one, Mahony urged that his lawyers and aides meet with a police detective and clarify that all priests implicated with possible wrongdoing had been discussed with authorities. In addition to the five priests already reported to authorities, Mahony suggested that three more needed to be discussed with police.

"If we don't take immediate, aggressive action here--the consequences for the [archdiocese] are going to be incredible," Mahony wrote. "Charges of cover up, concealing criminals, etc., etc."

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