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Judge ordered to consider sealing records in priest sex abuse case

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  1. Court Access

    NMU         KENTUCKY         Secret Courts         Nov 22, 2002    

Judge ordered to consider sealing records in priest sex abuse case

  • The state high court found that a “sliding scale approach” based on a document’s use in court should be used in determining whether to seal it.

Court documents revealing sexual abuse by Catholic priests should remain sealed, the Kentucky Supreme Court ordered on Nov. 21.

The Roman Catholic Dioceses of Covington and Lexington requested that portions of the amended complaint deemed irrelevant by the trial court be stricken and sealed from public disclosure. While trial judge Mary Noble ruled to strike portions of the amended complaint, she then refused to seal those records, after The (Louisville) Courier-Journal intervened to gain access.

On appeal, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that disclosure of the stricken portions of the complaint may harm the ability of the priests to have a fair trial.

While the court recognized the presumption of open access to court records, it recommended that the lower court use a “sliding scale approach” providing more access to documents that determine litigants’ substantive rights and less access to documents that play a minor role in adjudicating litigants’ rights.

“We leave it to the trial court to determine on remand where on this scale the stricken allegations at issue fall,” Justice Martin Johnstone wrote in the majority opinion.

In the dissenting opinion, Chief Justice Joseph Lambert criticized the court’s order for accepting the Dioceses’ unsupported claim that closure is necessary to ensure a fair trial.

“In case after case, courts have discovered that despite widespread negative publicity, they can fill a jury box with fair and impartial jurors who have not formed an opinion as to the merits of the case,” Lambert wrote.

Copies of the opinions can be found at http://162.114.92.72/opinions/2002-SC-000659-MR.pdf .

(Roman Catholic Diocese of Lexington v. Noble) ST


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