A 2013 case over bullying and harassment at St. Pius X Catholic School in Mobile has unearthed what appears to be acknowledgement of sexual abuse allegations made against the school’s pastor, Johnny S. Savoie.
However, after the discovery, Mobile’s Archdiocese seems to have gone silent attempting to prevent any further questions or subpoenas relating to the incident.
In the original case, A.S. v. St. Pius X, a student plaintiff claims to have suffered repeated bullying at the school for more than a year despite attempts her mother made to address the issue with teachers and church administrators.
Since the case was first brought on, more clients have been added into separate, but similar cases — all of which are being led by local attorneys David Kennedy and Christine Hernandez.
While searching through Savoie’s personal files, the attorneys found a transcript of an address the pastor gave to his parish in February 2014. That letter reads as follows:
“An accusation has been made against me that approximately nine years ago I was involved in an inappropriate sexual conduct with a 16-year-old. The accusation was reported to the archdiocese and then communicated to me. I adamantly deny the accusation. The archdiocese reported the accusation to the District Attorney, in accord with the Archdiocesan policy. I requested to take a lie detector test. I did so, and it was determined that I answered the questions with no deceit. The archdiocese has determined there is no evidence to support the accusation. Therefore, I will remain serving as a pastor of St.Pius X Parish. I ask for your prayers for me and for all concerned.” – Johnny S. Savoie
Documents from later depositions reveal the accuser was a male who alleged to have been involved in “inappropriate sexual conduct” with Savoie from age 16 to 18 in or around 2005. The accuser’s name has not been released, not even to attorneys for the plaintiffs in the pending case.
Attorneys for Savoie and St. Pius acknowledged during a hearing with Circuit Judge Sarah Stewart that “there was a very limited disclosure made” to the congregation of St. Pius, but the Archdiocese has not provided many details of the “investigation” that took place prior to Savoie’s disclosure.
Because the case is pending in court, Kennedy and Hernandez both declined a chance to comment for this report, however, court documents show there are several questions the attorneys have asked that have gone unanswered since the discovery of Savoie’s letter.
Defendants initially cited attorney-client and work product privileges as the reason for not disclosing the requested information, but it remains to be seen if those claims of privilege will hold up. Just before a Feb. 2 hearing about use of attorney-client privilege, lawyers for the Archdiocese requested the court to seal even the discussion of the why there were unanswered questions.
Stewart denied the request saying she didn’t want the hearing sealed because it could hurt the public’s confidence, which she said is “all the judiciary has.”
Some of the unanswered questions included “when (Savoie) first learned about the allegation, and who informed him,” both of which attorneys from Vickers, Riis, Murray and Curran, L.L.C. advised him not to answer.
Other unanswered questions dealt with who ordered the polygraph test for Savoie, who performed it and who made contact with lawyers from Vickers, Riis, Murray and Curran after the allegations were initially made.
In the same deposition, Kennedy asked attorneys for the Archdiocese if “anything said between Father James Cink and Archbishop T. J. Rodi or Savoie” would be claimed as protected under attorney-client privilege or work product privilege, which Mark Redditt answered in the affirmative.
Defense attorneys have also attempted to compel the court to prevent the plaintiffs from issuing subpoenas to investigators employed by the Archdiocese and law enforcement agencies that could have been notified of any allegations of sexual misconduct.
The defendants requested Judge Stewart to bar the plaintiffs from issuing subpoenas to Baldwin Legal Investigations, Inc., Poche Polygraph, LLC, the Mobile County District Attorney’s office and departments of human resources in both Baldwin and Mobile counties.
The plaintiffs believe those parties could or should have been involved with any investigation that preceded Savoie’s letter to his congregation, provided the allegations were reported properly.
Two such desired depositions are with Clay Poche and Max Hansen, who were involved with the investigation and polygraph test given to Savoie. Hansen is also the husband of Lisa Hansen, who was formerly representing the defendants and is now employed by the Archdiocese as an in-house attorney.
Because the St. Pius case deals with the protection of school children, Kennedy’s filings claim any alleged incident of child abuse or endangerment would be relevant to the litigation.
“The depositions of Clay Poche and Max Hansen are relevant because those persons investigated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor against a party in this lawsuit,” the documents read. “Whether the allegations of pedophilia were reported to governmental authorities is also relevant as evidence of negligence and wantonness on the part of the Archdiocese, and in particular, Archbishop Rodi.”
So far, the attorneys for the defendants have produced no proof the Archdiocese actually followed its own policy and contacted the District Attorney’s office when the allegations were first received. Questions about the timing of any communication with the District Attorney’s office was also unanswered under the advisement of counsel. At the same time, no court document or recorded statement has confirmed or suggested it did not follow policy.
Kennedy and the plaintiffs have made no allegations of sexual abuse or a cover-up against any of the defendants. So far, they’re only asking for further information about the alleged incident in 2005 and how the Archdiocese handled investigation into the allegations.
Stewart gave attorneys for St. Pius a deadline of Feb. 20 to file briefs supporting their claims for attorney-client and work product privilege, and a ruling on those requests should be expected shortly after that.
However, in earlier statements Stewart said the burden of proof to sustain those claims of privilege or have the case’s hearings sealed would need to be “high, and for good reason.”
Attempts to reach Mobile’s Archdiocese for comment have so far been unsuccessful, though Assistant District Attorney Debra Tillman was able to confirm Mobile County’s DA office “did not receive notification from the archdiocese regarding the allegation” against Savoie.
Following the initial publishing of this report, the Baldwin County District Attorney’s office sent the following statement to Lagniappe:
“In December of 2013 and January of 2014, the Baldwin County District Attorney’s Office received notification, from an attorney representing the Archdiocese of Mobile, of allegations against Father Johnny Savoie,” the statement reads. “Based upon the nature of the allegations and the ages of the individuals involved, the alleged conduct did not violate any criminal statutes.”
Updated at 5:35 p.m., Feb. 19, to add comments from the Mobile County District Attorney’s Office and the Baldwin County District Attorneys Office.
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