Judge asked to review church’s proposed ‘gag order’
By Oliver Uyttebrouck, April 26, 2017, Albuquerque Journal
A Santa Fe judge has been asked to take up the question of how much information the Roman Catholic Church can conceal in clerical sex abuse cases.
Attorneys representing seven New Mexico men who allege they were sexually abused as boys by a Las Vegas priest asked a judge on Friday to reject a proposed order that would allow the Archdiocese of Santa Fe to seal a wide variety of records filed in the lawsuit.
In their response, attorneys for the alleged victims called the proposed order “overbroad, complex and limiting” and “a near complete gag order” unnecessary for ensuring a fair trial.
“Even cases involving sensitive trade secrets are not typically accompanied by such restrictive protective orders” as the one sought by the archdiocese, the response said.
The archdiocese’s attorneys earlier this month asked state District Judge Sarah Singleton of Santa Fe to impose a confidentiality and protective order that would bar attorneys in the case from disclosing records the archdiocese deems confidential.
The proposed order is virtually identical to one handed down in 2014 by 2nd Judicial District Judge Alan Malott of Albuquerque that bars public disclosure of a wide variety of records, including priests’ personnel files, depositions and many of the motions filed in more than 50 lawsuits filed by Albuquerque attorney Brad Hall.
Cammie Nichols, an Albuquerque attorney representing the seven alleged victims, said the proposed order would interfere with her ability to investigate on behalf of her clients.
“I don’t think that level of secrecy is necessary to have a fair trial,” Nichols said. “It’s much too limiting in allowing attorneys to do part of their job, which is investigation.”
Nichols also contends the proposed order limits the free speech rights of her clients.
Over a period of decades, “dozens of New Mexico priests have been publicly outed as sexual abusers of children,” the response said. “This issue, while now widely known to the public at large, remains of clear public importance because it is centered in the special protections deserved by the children of New Mexico,” it said.