Shine the Spotlight on the Sealed Court Files

One of the most important lessons taught by the movie  “Spotlight” was the critical role that the media can and must play in exposing the scope of the Catholic Church’s child sex abuse scandal.   The crucial step that media should take is to seek to open all of the “sealed files” that have arisen out of priest sex abuse litigation.

It is a basic tenet of our judicial system, that our legal system should be open to all and subject to the scrutiny of society. That is why trials are open to the public. The only way that people will trust the process is through transparency. The validity of any Court decision can only be fairly judged when we know what evidence that the Court based its opinion on.

Despite our society’s commitment to open courts, many of the documents that would shed the most light on Catholic sex abuse, remain hidden and inaccessible to the public. At the request of the Catholic Church, Courts have frequently “sealed” those portions of the sex abuse litigation files that contain the Church’s own documents that reveal the scope of priest sex abuse scandal.

Unfortunately, this is precisely what occurred in the most recent lawsuit that we filed against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte. These cases involved allegations of child sexual abuse by Father Richard Farwell and Father Joseph Kelleher, as well as claims that the Charlotte Diocese transferred child abusing priests, destroyed documents and acted in other ways to protect child abusing priests. . Every piece of paper produced by the Diocese to us was stamped “confidential.” The Court then ordered that all of those documents had be protected from the public view as well as all of the evidence that we filed to support our allegations of misconduct, also had to be filed under seal. This included the Plaintiff’s Brief in Opposition to the Diocese’ Motion for Summary Judgment. This brief contained a detailed and extensive analysis of the Church’s “confidential” documents, as well as other evidence that we had obtained from other sources.

When one of the cases was appealed, the Court of Appeals also ordered that the entire record of the case could not be seen by the public.

The spotlight is on the media to ensure that the principles of open courts and the exercise of free speech be upheld. Here in Charlotte, as in many other cities across the country, the media failed miserably. Instead of vigorously contesting all efforts to maintain secrecy in court proceedings, they’ve sat silently and allowed the public’s right to know to be trampled.

Let the Spotlight Continue to Shine

The sordid truths exposed by the Boston Globe about the Archdiocese of Boston as so movingly depicted by “Spotlight” should act as a springboard for the peeling back of the judicially imposed veils of secrecy.

However, it is not too late spread the light and to reveal the Catholic Church’s darkest secrets. Newspapers and other media should file motions to open these secret files in every court that allowed this secrecy about the child abuse scandal of the Catholic Church. We can only change the future if we let the people see the past. The Spotlight must still shine bright.

Join BraveStep at a Checkers Game

Much is going on at BraveStep as we start the new year. We hope that you can join us at this fundraising event.

Join Brave Step at the Charlotte Checkers game Jan. 23, 2016

The Charlotte Checkers have given Brave Step a wonderful opportunity to share its mission and also raise funds in the process.

For every $16 ticket sold, Brave Step receives $5. This is a great event for family, friends, colleagues, civic groups and more.

Purchase your tickets now in two ways:

  1. Online: Visit www.gocheckers.com/bravestep and use passcode BraveStep (one word) to purchase your tickets.
  2. Via email: Brave Step has numerous printed tickets available. To request these, please email info@bravestep.org.

Thank you for your support!

I look forward to meeting supporters at the game.

 

Seth Langson

Sex Abuse Prevention Advocate

Did Queens College Protect an Alleged Rapist?

Queens College, in Charlotte, North Carolina, would not releasel a campus police report without first getting the permission of the accused. This is the first time I’ve ever seen this done by a college and I hope it is the last.  I believe they owe the public an explanation.

http://www.wbtv.com/story/29659769/campus-police-refused-to-release-rape-suspects-name-without-permission-release-victims-n

 

Seth Langson

Attorney and Child Advocate

 

Barrons Ignorant Comments About Dennis Hastert

On Monday, I wrote the featured Barron columnist Randall Forsyth about his article in which he wrote that Dennis Hastert was in trouble because he had a “sexual relationship”. I explained that it was clear that it was with a minor and that it was sexual abuse, not a relationship. When I disagreed with his contention that he could not have known it was anything more by his deadline, he sent an angry all capitalized e-mail. When I wrote back that yelling was unprofessional, he replied ” When somebody refuses to listen, one tends to yell.”.

At the time of Mr. Forsyth’s deadline, it was public knowledge that Dennis Hastert had paid millions of dollars of hush money to a person with whom Hastert had sex long ago. It was also known that Hastert had made cash withdrawals that appeared to violate money laundering laws.

Anyone with an understanding of child sex abuse would have thought it likely that: Hastert paid the money to someone he had sexually abused; that he did not want this other person to go to the police and that Hastert the statute of limitations prevented him from being criminally charged. and

The Hastert reference was completely irrelevant to the article and if Mr Forsyth had any doubts about the meaning of the indictment, he should have left Hastert out of his column.

I suggest that Mr. Forsyth learn about childhood sex abuse before he writes about it in a jocular manner.  He is the most ignorant writer with whom I have ever communicated.

Will the Duggar Family Just Slink Away?

Not a day goes by without another media appearance and stunningly ignorant comment by a member of the Duggar family. Are they trying to be the Kardashians of child abuse?

http://abc11.com/news/duggar-sisters-defend-brother-in-sex-abuse-scandal/766537/

Seth Langson, Attorney and Child Advocate

Working to Protecting Children from Sex Abuse

 

 

Lives of Consequence-Fighting Sex Abuse

I am honored to that last week Hobart and William Smith Colleges recognized me as a “Life of Consequence” for the work I have done fighting sex abuse.

http://www.hws.edu/alumni/remarkable/index.aspx

Below are profiles of Hobart and William Smith alumni and alumnae who are leading lives of consequence. Check back each Friday for a new alum.
hws.edu

Children Endangered By N.C. Religious Freedom Restoration Act

The North Carolina Religious Freedom Restoration Act Endangers Children

Let’s be clear. The pending North Carolina Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) is markedly different from the Indiana version which has recently been in the news.  While every state’s but Mississippi’s RFRA requires the State to have significantly burdened the exercise religion by anyone or entity, North Carolina will only require that a “burden”  was created. The number and types of government action that could be claimed as burdens is limited only by the imagination of lawyers.

The proposed North Carolina Restoration of Religious Freedom Act (RFRA) will increase the likelihood that a child will be sexually abused. This is due, in part to the fact that House Bill 348 will make it much easier for an individual and/or legal entity to claim that the government is infringing on their free exercise of religion.
In the thirty years I spent as an attorney representing survivors of sex abuse, one of the most common theories relied upon was that the institution is responsible for its negligent hiring. The essence of this theory is that the institution failed to conduct an adequate background check, which would have revealed that prospective employee’s unfitness to work with children. If North Carolina passes the proposed RFRA, organizations will undoubtedly assert the defense that their hiring decisions were guided by their faith and were not subject to state scrutiny.
Sound farfetched? Consider what happened last year in Kentucky. Roy Yoakum, a pastor at the New Gospel Outreach Church in Kentucky, was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting a fourteen-year-old boy at church. He was hired despite the Church knowing that he was a registered sex offender. The Church justified the hiring of Yoakum by stating “We’re firm believers in the Bible, so if God’s forgiven you, then we’re in no position to treat you otherwise”. If Kentucky had enacted a comparable RFRA, to the one proposed in North Carolina, the Gospel Outreach Church’s attorneys would surely have raised the defense that the hiring of Pastor Yoakum necessarily involved issues of faith that would burden the free exercise of religion. After all, if God’s forgiveness trumps a prospective employee’s history of sex abuse, then the claim of negligent hiring would become extinct.
This law will also allow religious institutions to resist producing incriminating documents in sex abuse cases. The argument will certainly be made that most, if not all, of their documents are inextricably linked to the exercise of their religion and therefore beyond the power of a court to order that they be produced. In practically every case that has ever been brought against the Catholic Church related to sex abuse, church documents about prior complaints lodged against the perpetrators and the Church’s response to these prior reports, have proven critical in order to hold a Diocese responsible.
Similarly, House Bill 348 would weaken the scope of our child abuse reporting laws. For example, sexual abuse within a family or church is often not reported as required. Those that fail to do so would now be able to assert that their religious beliefs required that such misconduct be handled without the involvement of outsiders

.
We need to implement policies and laws that protect our children from sexual abuse. House Bill 348 will do the opposite.

Seth Langson, Child Advocate and Attorney

Dedicated to Preventing Child Sex Abuse

Gaston County Coach Accused of Sexual Abuse

It seems that every week there is another coach charged with sex abuse of a child. Whatever screening process and background checks that are being done are clearly not working.

http://www.wbtv.com/story/28664885/former-gaston-co-school-coach-charged-with-taking-indecent-liberties-with-student

Seth Langson, Child Advocate and Attorney

Dedicated to Preventing the Sex Abuse of Children

 

Children’s Alliance

I am pleased to report that I am now serving as a member of the leadership committee of the Children’s Alliance. I encourage everyone to support them and it’s member organizations as they  tirelessly advocate on behalf of children in the community.

Seth Langson, Child Advocate/Attorney