The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

SNAP to attention

This is just wrong:
Turning the tables on an advocacy group that has long supported victims of pedophile priests, lawyers for the Roman Catholic Church and priests accused of sexual abuse in two Missouri cases have gone to court to compel the group to disclose more than two decades of e-mails that could include correspondence with victims, lawyers, whistle-blowers, witnesses, the police, prosecutors and journalists.

The group, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, is neither a plaintiff nor a defendant in the litigation. But the group has been subpoenaed five times in recent months in Kansas City and St. Louis, and its national director, David Clohessy, was questioned by a battery of lawyers for more than six hours this year. A judge in Kansas City ruled that the network must comply because it “almost certainly” had information relevant to the case.
The article goes on to detail that the subpoena was much broader than the issue in the litigation, to which SNAP is not a party, and that "in the 215-page transcript, made public on March 2, most of the questions were not about the case but about the network — its budget, board of directors, staff members, donors and operating procedures." The Times further reports that the second subpoena was almost identical to the first one, and elicited materials regarding "suppressed memory," an issue in the first case, but not the second. From this, SNAP contends that "the legal action is part of a campaign by the church to cripple an organization that has been the most visible defender of victims, and a relentless adversary, for more than two decades." The unfortunately ubiquitous William Donohue is quoted as agreeing, saying that "targeting the network was justified because 'SNAP is a menace to the Catholic Church.'” Donohue went onto say:
The bishops have come together collectively. I can’t give you the names, but there’s a growing consensus on the part of the bishops that they had better toughen up and go out and buy some good lawyers to get tough. We don’t need altar boys.”
Well, not, at any rate, if they're going to speak up for themselves.

You can find SNAP's website here. Its resource pages are meticulous, well organized, and a font of information about this crisis which has been roiling the Catholic community for 4 decades now. In addition to its direct advocacy and counseling of victims, SNAP has preserved and archived primary and secondary sources, and made them readily and freely available to the public. Silencing critics by inflicting litigation costs and public exposure is a dirty trick when performed by secular corporations; when done by a Christian denomination, it is shameful. After you visit SNAP's archives, you may want to consider visiting the "donate" page to help preserve this record, if for no other reason.


rick allen said...

I am rather at a loss about the outrage expressed.

I haven't followed these cases in the press, but I would be very surprised if SNAP hadn't contested the subpoenas, and, if they were upheld, there must have been some determination that SNAP had relevent evidence. If that were the case, wouldn't the Church's lawyers have been skirting malpractice by not pursuing this evidence?

The story prominently quotes Donahue--but he has nothing to do with the story itself, other that providing his usual scorn. But of course it is then his contemptuous attitude that is then attributed to the Church.

I've taken countless depositions over my professional life, and a 215-page transcript is in fact rather short for a depostion. If there were questions about the deponent's organization, that seems routine to me--it's the kind of stuff I would cover first, and it's apparently all public knowledge anyway.

So it looks to me like this is routine discovery, especially if the case may turn on when the allegedly "recovered memory" returned. What would you do if you were the Church's lawyer?

Anglocat said...

Actually, in my experience (and I've taken and defended an obscene amount of deps in my time, too) a full day of deposition runs about 100 pages of transcript. SNAP was a non-party, and the deposition and subpoena ranged well beyond the subject of the litigation, let alone the rather collateral issues as to which SNAP had knowledge. This plus the evidence of coordination between lawyers for the Church suggest a concerted efforts to penalize SNAP, the old process is the punishment approach, plus leading victims to feel insecure speaking to SNAP.

Courts order depositions that turn out to go well beyond the appropriate scope all the time. An extreme but telling example is Clinton v. Jones, where all of the Lewinsky material which led to the impeachment was subsequently found to be legally irrelevant to the actual case.

But, to your question, I don't blame the lawyers. I blame the Church for acting like a standard litigant, and not considering it's moral duties to those it injured.

Anglocat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rick allen said...

Please don't misunderstand. I have no problem with SNAP. On the whole they've done a service to the Church by pressing these matters.

But, to the extent that they have been something more than a counseling organization, they are subject to subpoena just like any other entity with evidence.

My objection is to their painting this thing so that SNAP is heroic in facilitating lawsuits, but the Church predatory in trying to defend itself. If the matter's been put it court, it's going to be hashed out in court, and it seems a little late now to be deploring the normal consequences of litigation.

Understand, my one experience with a case involving an allegation of molestation was one in which I was able to establish an iron-clad alibi for the accused, with long-distance phone records and the testimony of disinterested witnesses. I was actually very lucky, but, even then, it was only possible because we were able to have the accuser identify the time and place of the alleged incident, and that time was only a about a year before the accusation was lodged. Frankly, I don't know how one defends against accusations over ten years old.

Anglocat said...

The Church's behavior, if Donohue is telling the truth, goes beyond self-defense. If he's lying, that does change the analysis to some degree. Even so, as II've already argued, the depositions and subpoenas are extremely broad, well beyond the issues in the cases, and seem abusive to me.

By the way, the inquiry isn't whether SNAP has been a net positive for the Church, though I agree that it has been. It's that SNAP fulfills an important role which the Church should have,and has abjectly failed to--caring for the victims of clerical abuse.

Finally, I acknowledge the difficulty in defending decades old cases, and the entirely legitimate concern of the innocent being convicted in criminal cases, as well as the less damaging, but still deplorable results of a civil verdict on shaky proof. But in many, though not all, cases, much of the delay has been caused by the Church inducing victims to not go to civil authorities, or not cooperating with civil authorities, as documented most recently by a series of grand jury reports.