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Spotlight Report

Judge delays public release of Law depositions

By Michael Rezendes and Sacha Pfeiffer, Globe Staff, 6/8/2002

After a legal showdown involving more than a dozen lawyers for the Catholic Church, alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse, and the news media, Appeals Court Judge Gordon L. Doerfer yesterday delayed the public release of written transcripts and videotapes of depositions given by Cardinal Bernard F. Law and Manchester, N.H., Bishop John B. McCormack.

Law's personal attorney, J. Owen Todd, argued that the piecemeal release of the cardinal's pre-trial testimony - before the complete transcripts are reviewed for potential errors - could impair Law's right to a fair trial.

But Robert Sherman, an attorney for alleged victims of the Rev. Paul R. Shanley, said the public has a right to evaluate each day of testimony by church officials. He accused lawyers for Law and the archdiocese of ''trying to have it both ways'' by speaking publicly about Law's testimony while opposing the quick release of transcripts of his remarks.

At the close of Doerfer's afternoon hearing - scheduled with little notice after last-minute appeals by attorneys for Law, McCormack, and the Boston Archdiocese - Doerfer said he would reach a decision on the release of testimony by Law and McCormack early next week. The hearing was held just hours after Law completed a morning session of pretrial testimony in the Shanley cases, and just hours before the scheduled release of his and McCormack's partial depositions.

The Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, a spokesman for the archdiocese who attended the deposition, declined to discuss details of the cardinal's testimony but said that the questions posed to Law covered the years from 1977 through 1984, when he was named archbishop of Boston, and that Law said he accepted responsibility for some decisions made by subordinates.

''When asked, he did respond by saying, `Ultimately, I was the one who made the decision,''' Coyne said.

But Paula and Rodney Ford, parents of an alleged Shanley victim who also attended the deposition, said they were distressed by what Law had to say.

''He kept reverting to poor record-keeping again,'' Paula Ford said. ''The fact of the matter is that there was a secret file and it appears to us, after having listened to him for three hours, that the file was kept secret only from themselves. The records were there. They chose not to read them.''

Rodney Ford said Law was asked if, when he promoted Shanley to pastor, it would have been common sense for him to check the Shanley file for potentially damaging information. ''His answer: No, it was not common sense to check the files.''

Doerfer could refer the matter to a full panel of the Appeals Court. And a decision by him to release the pretrial testimony of church officials before it is completed could be appealed to the state Supreme Judicial Court.

Jeffrey A. Newman, another attorney for alleged Shanley victims, said he favors the quick release of pretrial testimony from church officials but praised Doerfer's decision to delay a ruling until next week. ''It's important for the long run that he try and carefully balance the interests of the litigants with the public's right to know,'' Newman said.

The issue of whether pretrial testimony can be released before an entire deposition is complete comes after contradictory rulings on the matter from two Superior Court judges.

Suffolk Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney, ruling in cases filed by alleged victims of former priest John J. Geoghan, has said Law's pretrial testimony cannot be made public until an entire deposition is complete and Law is given 30 days to review a transcript for any potential errors. Sweeney also ruled that a videotape of Law's testimony will not be made public unless Law is unavailable for trial.

By contrast, Middlesex Superior Court Judge Raymond J. Brassard, ruling in cases filed by alleged victims of Shanley, said written transcripts and videotapes of pretrial testimony by Law and McCormack could be made public once they are certified by court reporters. It was Brassard's rulings that were appealed yesterday.

Meanwhile, an attorney said yesterday he will file a lawsuit next week on behalf of a woman who alleges that she was sexually abused from 1972 to 1974 by two priests who were overseen by Law when Law was vicar general of the Jackson, Miss., diocese.

Anthony R. Simon, an attorney for the woman, whose name has not been made public, said she was 12 when the alleged abuse began at St. Peter's parish in Jackson, where the two priests - the Revs. George L. Broussard and Thomas Boyce - were stationed together for a time.

Reached this week, Broussard, 67, who is no longer a priest and lives in Houma, La., at first flatly denied the complaints, but later said, ''I'm neither affirming nor denying the allegations.'' Boyce, who remains a priest and is assigned to St. Mary's parish in Batesville, Miss., is on vacation and did not return a call for comment. The Jackson diocese also did not return a call for comment.

According to Simon, the suit will charge that Law knew about Broussard's alleged abuse but failed to take action and ''knew or should have known'' about alleged abuse by Boyce. Named as defendants will be Broussard, Boyce, Law, and the Jackson diocese, he said.

Simon said he represents additional people who allege they were abused by Broussard and Boyce.

One of them is Kenneth P. Morrison, who says he was molested by Broussard in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Morrison also alleges that Broussard continued to abuse him even after his father told Law that Morrison's brothers were being molested.

In a deposition Wednesday, Law acknowledged that he was alerted to Broussard's alleged abuse, according to the parents of an alleged Shanley victim who attended the deposition.

Michael Rezendes can be reached at

Sacha Pfeiffer'can be reached at

This story ran on page A10 of the Boston Globe on 6/8/2002.
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