Reporter's conversations ruled private
Judge says Shaw protected from deposition
by Richard Nangle
TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
October 3, 2003
WORCESTER- A local reporter will not have to testify about
private conversations she had with a Shrewsbury man about
his sexual abuse lawsuit against Auxiliary Bishop George E.
Rueger, according to a ruling by Superior Court Judge C. Brian
Telegram & Gazette reporter Kathleen A. Shaw had been
subpoenaed by the Worcester Catholic Diocese to bring with
her to a deposition "any and all correspondence, notes,
memoranda, photographs, charts, drawings and any and all materials"
in her possession regarding plaintiff Sime J. Braio, Bishop
Rueger, lawyer Daniel J. Shea of Houston, and the allegations
made against the auxiliary bishop by Mr. Braio.
In an eight-page ruling, Judge McDonald noted that while
there are no laws or court precedents protecting Massachusetts
news reporters, under common law principles, "courts
afford journalists a measure of protection from discovery
initiatives in order not to undermine their ability to gather
and disseminate information. Journalists are the personification
of a free press, and to withhold such protection would invite
a chilling effect on speech ... and thus destabilize the First
"As demonstrated by Shaw's affidavit, the effect of
even threatened disclosure has already chilled Shaw's relationship
with her sources, who are understandably less confident that
Shaw will be able to honor her pledges of confidentiality,"
Judge McDonald said. "Compelled disclosure would undeniably
compromise not only Shaw's, but other reporters' ability to
gather and disseminate information about religious matters
in and around Worcester."
The Worcester diocese contended Massachusetts law did not
protect Ms. Shaw from having to testify and turn over her
The Telegram & Gazette argued Massachusetts courts have
ruled reporters are not required to testify unless the value
of their testimony "outweighs the inevitable interference
with the functioning of the free press."
The newspaper maintained the Massachusetts Constitution and
common law protects reporters from having to reveal the contents
of their confidential conversations with sources. It also
questioned whether the information the diocese sought from
Ms. Shaw was available through another source.
The newspaper said Ms. Shaw's published reports on the Braio
case were gleaned from the lawsuit itself and not from any
confidential conversations with Mr. Braio.
Diocesan lawyer James G. Reardon said he needed to know details
about conversations Ms. Shaw was having with Mr. Braio as
far back as February 2002. The diocese alleges Mr. Braio threatened
to go public with his charge against Bishop Rueger unless
the diocese paid him a sum of money.
The newspaper claimed that requiring Ms. Shaw's testimony
would impede her ability to protect confidential, unpublished
information and would intrude upon the editorial process.
The diocese countered Massachusetts does not have a press
shield law and the state Supreme Judicial Court is on record
as refusing to create one.
Judge McDonald said the newspaper had an obligation to show
that disclosure of Ms. Shaw's conversations with Mr. Braio
would be damaging.
"Shaw's affidavits demonstrate that her conversations
with Braio were premised upon her promise not to disclose
the substance of the conversations. Absent any evidence that
Shaw has published the substance of those conversations, I
conclude that they are confidential," he said.
"Moreover, Shaw's affidavits support her claim that
disclosure of her confidential communications with Braio would
impair her ability to investigate and report on religious
issues in the Worcester area," he said. "With this
showing, T&G and Shaw have satisfied the threshold test."
Judge McDonald said the diocese can seek testimony from numerous
other sources and that, "compelled testimony by Shaw
would amount to no more than needless disclosure of confidential
The diocese has deposed James J. Gribouski, a Worcester lawyer
who once represented Mr. Braio but who declined to file suit
against Bishop Rueger on Mr. Braio's behalf. Mr. Gribouski
made that decision after receiving a letter from a psychiatrist
who evaluated Mr. Braio and concluded his symptoms could not
be related to sexual abuse.
Ms. Shaw has interviewed Mr. Braio and written several news
accounts of the lawsuit.
Mr. Braio's lawsuit alleges Bishop Rueger, then a parish
priest, began sexually molesting him in the early 1960s when
he was 13. The suit alleges that the abuse resulted in behavior
that landed Mr. Braio, now 53, in the former Lyman School
for Boys in Westboro.
The diocese says its own investigation cleared Bishop Rueger
of any wrongdoing. Worcester District Attorney John J. Conte
has said his office and state police investigators could not
substantiate the charges.
The diocese says, on at least three occasions, Mr. Braio
attempted to extort up to $10,000 from church officials in
exchange for his silence on the matter. Mr. Conte's office
is investigating the diocese's accusations of extortion attempts.
On Sept. 10, Judge Leila Kern dismissed all of Mr. Braio's
claims against the diocese.