Monday, December 15, 2003
Court of Appeal Upholds Sealing of Papers in Investigation of Possible Abuse by Priests
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The public has no right to access to proceedings related to the grand jury investigation of allegations of sexual abuse by priests in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled Friday.
Hearings on motions to quash subpoenas duces tecum issued by the grand jury should be closed to the public, and all related papers should remain sealed, to the extent necessary to maintain grand jury secrecy, Presiding Justice Joan Dempsey Klein wrote for Div. Three.
The Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Daily Journal brought a writ petition challenging an order by retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Thomas Nuss. District Attorney Steve Cooley supported the newspapers.
Nuss, who was named as discovery referee after the Court of Appeal ruled last year that the grand jury had the authority to issue the subpoenas, ruled in August that all future pleadings, orders, and hearings involved in litigating motions to quash filed by the archdiocese would be closed and sealed.
Klein, writing for the Court of Appeal Friday, said the presumptive right of access to judicial proceedings under the First Amendment does not extend to the grand jury.
The U.S. Supreme Court, she explained, has based the presumptive right on the “tradition of accessibility” to the courts and the “significant positive role” that public access plays in the process. Neither of those bases applies to the grand jury process, Klein declared, noting that grand jury proceedings are traditionally closed and that “public access to grand jury proceedings would hinder, rather than further, the efficient functioning of the proceedings.”
Several California Supreme Court cases, she said, have reaffirmed grand jury secrecy, upholding orders precluding public access to grand jury materials, allowing a court to suppress the filing of a report containing improper matter, and barring release of materials gathered during a completed grand jury investigation that did not result in indictments.
“This line of cases establishes that non-disclosure is the pre-eminent rule for California grand jury proceedings, that public access is regulated by express statutory authorization, and that even the inherent powers of a superior court supervising a grand jury are severely restricted when the court seeks to disclose grand jury materials,” the presiding justice wrote.
Similar results have been reached in federal cases and in other states, Klein added, endorsing the federal approach in which court proceedings ancillary to the grand jury investigation, including motions to quash subpoenas, are initially closed in order to avoid the possible release of grand jury matters.
On remand, the jurist said, the burden will be on the newspapers to show that a particular disclosure will not endanger the secrecy of the grand jury proceeding.
Attorneys who argued in the Court of Appeal were Kelli L. Sager of Davis Wright Tremaine for the newspapers, Deputy District Attorney Brentford Ferreira for the prosecution, Donald F. Woods of Hennigan, Bennett & Dorman for the archdiocese, and Donald H. Steier of Guzin & Steier, representing the individual priests.
The case is Los Angeles Times v. Superior Court (People), 03 S.O.S. 6338.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company