Lawyers in clergy abuse lawsuit seek documents from Saints executives

The lawyers for a man who alleges he was sexually abused by former Catholic deacon George Brignac decades ago have sent a subpoena to the New Orleans Saints for copies of any communications between club officials and the local archdiocese.

According to attorneys Richard Trahant and John Denenea, the move came after the discovery process turned up documents and emails which, they contend, showed at least one member of the Saints’ administration — longtime public relations chief Greg Bensel — was advising the archdiocese on how to publicly address local claims pertaining to the Catholic Church's ongoing clergy abuse crisis.

The lawsuit, filed in late October, alleges that the unidentified plaintiff is due damages because Brignac molested him when he was an altar boy at a local church in the late 1970s and because the Archdiocese of New Orleans failed to protect him. Brignac has denied wrongdoing, and the archdiocese has been litigating the claims. 

At least some of the communications requested by the attorneys involved a Saints and National Football League email address belonging to Bensel, the plaintiffs said. That prompted the attorneys on Monday to also send a letter to the NFL’s offices in New York asking the league to preserve any potential evidence there or on its computer servers.

Bensel, who in his 23 years working with the Saints became a trusted adviser to longtime owner Tom Benson and his widow Gayle, declined comment on the letter to the NFL and the subpoena. Bensel and the Saints can challenge the requests in court.

An archdiocesan spokeswoman also declined to comment on the matter, citing a policy against discussing pending legal cases.

Loyola University law professor Dane Ciolino said he would expect the Saints to move to quash the subpoena on the grounds that it is unlikely to uncover admissible evidence related to the case.

Still, taken together, the subpoena and the NFL letter signal the willingness of the plaintiff’s attorneys to set their aim at some of the city’s most prominent institutions as they seek compensation for their client.

Though the plaintiff’s lawyers said they merely wish to better understand how the Saints organization may have been involved “with supporting the archdiocese on addressing sexual abuse claims and the media coverage surrounding these claims,” the letter and subpoena for now have pulled an organization belonging to one of New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond’s most influential friends — Gayle Benson — into a legal fracas.

Aymond and Benson, the owner of the Saints and the NBA’s Pelicans, speak openly about their friendship and the allian...

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