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Public Access to Ruling on Priests Is Blocked

August 30, 2003|Jean Guccione | Times Staff Writer

A retired judge, citing grand jury secrecy, blocked public access Friday to his own ruling on whether the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles must turn over to prosecutors the personnel files of priests accused of molesting children.

Nearly 2,000 pages of church documents were subpoenaed for review by the Los Angeles County Grand Jury a year ago.

Prosecutors say they are central to the criminal investigation of alleged sexual wrongdoing by priests in the Los Angeles area.

Thomas F. Nuss, who retired in 1994 from the Los Angeles County Superior Court, was appointed to settle a dispute between prosecutors and lawyers for the archdiocese. At issue is whether the archdiocese may withhold the files by asserting a privilege covering communications between a penitent and a confessor.

Lawyers for the archdiocese have advocated sealing Nuss' findings, also citing grand jury secrecy. Attorney J. Michael Hennigan, who represents the archdiocese, did not return a phone call seeking comment Friday.

Joe Scott, a spokesman for Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, declined to comment because prosecutors had not yet received a copy of the order.

Nuss is being paid $350 an hour by the archdiocese for his work, part of an agreement among the parties that was disclosed earlier this month. To date, he has been paid at least $12,500.

The Times, which had asked to see the documents, will review the order and determine whether there are public access rights that can be pursued, said Karlene Goller, deputy general counsel of the newspaper.

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