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Court Halts Secret Hearings on Church's Records

September 12, 2003|Jean Guccione | Times Staff Writer

A state appeals court on Thursday temporarily halted a secret hearing with prosecutors and lawyers for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles in their continuing dispute over access to the files of priests accused of molesting children.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal issued the temporary stay at the request of the Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Daily Journal. The order states that the court wants more time for review.

The newspapers are seeking access to closed court proceedings, including the one that had been scheduled for today, and to sealed documents involving court rulings on the archdiocese's privilege claims.

Retired Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Thomas F. Nuss was appointed by the court to rule on the archdiocese's claims. He is being paid $350 an hour by the archdiocese under the terms of his appointment.

Today's scheduled hearing involved a request by prosecutors to make public Nuss' ruling on whether the archdiocese must turn over nearly 2,000 pages of papers subpoenaed for review by the grand jury.

Nuss last week issued an order sealing all documents in the case.

Prosecutors say the personnel files are essential to their ongoing investigation of sexual abuse by priests.

But lawyers for the archdiocese argue that the documents are protected by the 1st Amendment right of religious freedom and numerous privileges, including those involving communications between an attorney and client and penitent and confessor.

The court of appeal did not indicate when it would issue a ruling.

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