Attorneys for Catholic churches, schools and institutions across Nebraska say they want to cooperate fully with 400 subpoenas the Attorney General’s Office served on them in February in an investigation into clergy sexual abuse of minors.
But attorney Patrick Flood, who represents Archdiocese of Omaha parishes, schools and archbishop, told a Lincoln judge Thursday that when the subpoenas came without warning and demanded the documents in three days: “Just practically, it was a ridiculous request.”
Assistant Nebraska Attorney General Ryan Post called it "disappointing … that plaintiffs' view of the AG's investigation into child abuse, sexual abuse and failure to report is government overreach and abuse of power.”
He said it also is disappointing that after many public announcements of cooperation, the attorney general still does not have all the requested documents.
Post said many schools and parishes responded right away, providing records the church hadn’t already turned over voluntarily after six months of working with prosecutors and investigators.
They continue to work together, he said, trying to resolve issues over what more information the state needs.
Flood said they’ll need a court order to get some of the documents, such as medical records, including psych evaluations of alleged perpetrators, evaluations of victims and confidential settlement agreements.
He said that’s why they turned to the court and filed a complaint for judicial relief March 1, rather than tell his 208 clients to ignore the subpoenas.
Specifically, Attorney General Doug Peterson required all records related to any assault or abuse by those employed or associated with each church or institution, whether previously reported or not. According to court documents, Peterson was demanding information covering 22 years.
“I can tell you what the attorney general would have done with that information and what a heyday they would have had in the press with that,” Flood said.
He said they were not going to tell clients to ignore the subpoenas because they were trying to cooperate and get them the documents.
“Or you could have told your clients to substantially comply to the best of their ability in the time frame that they were allotted,” said Lancaster County District Judge Lori Maret, who will decide the case.
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Attorney Richard Rice, who represents the Diocese of Lincoln and its bishop, stressed they have been working closely with investigators and prosecutors, but said fully complying with the subpoenas was virtually impossible with the scope of the request.
The subpoenas followed Peterson’s request in late August that Nebraska’s bishops voluntarily produce four decades of internal investigative reports related to sexual abuse of minors.
In the end, the question may boil down to the appropriate time to bring the court into it, a point that Post argued.
"The need for remedy means you're facing something negative, right?” the judge asked.
To which Flood answered, “Right."
"And you weren't, right?” Maret said.
Flood said: "We were facing subpoenas that we couldn't comply with."
Maret took the matter under advisement.
Outside the courtroom, Kyle and Lauren O’Donnell, a Lincoln couple who watched the hearing and know people who have been abused by priests, said they just hope the truth comes out.
Kyle O’Donnell said he has defended and supported the church and now feels a duty to make this right.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Lauren O'Donnell said.
And it doesn’t matter if it happened to her or her child or someone else, she said.
“What matters is it happened to somebody,” she said.