Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Says Names of 11 Priests Should Be Redacted From Grand Jury Report

In In re: Fortieth Statewide Investigating Grand Jury, (PA Sup. Ct., Dec. 3, 2018), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in a 6-1 decision held that because of insufficient due process protections, the names of 11 priests petitioning the court should be redacted permanently from the publicly released grand jury report on sexual misconduct by Catholic clergy. The majority said in part:
... [T]he supervising judge’s limited review and approval of a grand jury report for public release gives it an imprimatur of official government sanction which carries great weight in the eyes of the public, and, thus, may compound the harm to a person’s reputation who is wrongly named therein. As such, we ordered the temporary redaction of Report 1 while we addressed the challenges to it. In the absence of any other viable remedy, we are compelled to find that these  redactions, with respect to Petitioners, must be made permanent.
We acknowledge that this outcome may be unsatisfying to the public and to the victims of the abuse detailed in the report. While we understand and empathize with these perspectives, constitutional rights are of the highest order, and even alleged sexual abusers, or those abetting them, are guaranteed by our Commonwealth’s Constitution the right of due process. It is the unfortunate reality that the Investigating Grand Jury Act fails to secure this right, creating a substantial risk that Petitioners’ reputations will be irreparably and illegitimately impugned....
Justice Baer filed a concurring opinion. Justice Dougherty also filed a concurring opinion, setting out procedures which he believes would provide adequate due process. Chief Justice Saylor dissented (full text), arguing that petitioners should be provided hearings (and an opportunity to testify, if they did not do so before the grand jury) before a judicial officer at which they are "provided the opportunity to advocate that the grand jury’s particularized findings of criminal and/or morally reprehensible conduct are not supported by a preponderance of the evidence." Philadelphia Tribune reports on the decision.