Conn. Court. Unseals Clergy Abuse Records

     (CN) – The Connecticut Supreme Court upheld a trial judge’s decision to unseal records on 23 cases of alleged sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy, rejecting the Bridgeport Roman Catholic Diocese’s claim that there was no “presumption of public access” for The New York Times and other newspapers.

     Alleged victims began filing sexual abuse charges in the mid-1990s, and the cases were all settled by 2001. In 2002, the Times requested that the sealing orders be vacated.
     The Bridgeport Roman Catholic Diocese appealed the trial court’s decision to unseal the records. The diocese argued that the trial judge should have been disqualified, because the judge served on a task force concerning public access to the courts.
     Justice Katz disagreed.
     “A trial judge has no affirmative duty to step down from a case merely on the basis of membership on a task force unless the agenda of the task force is inconsistent with the judge’s duty to judge impartially,” Katz wrote.
     The diocese also asserted that the trial court wrongfully ruled that the documents were presumed to be subject to public access. The state high court again took a different view.
     “(The law) codifies the common-law presumption of public access to judicial documents, meaning any document … that the court reasonably could rely on in support of its adjudicatory function,” Katz wrote.
     The justices unsealed all but 15 documents, which are listed in a footnote.

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