This morning attorneys for St. Pius X Catholic School were denied a motion to block testimony about an alleged instance of sexual misconduct from a pending lawsuit over bullying.As a result, the school’s pastor, Fr. Johnny Savoie, is looking at yet another deposition that will focus on the allegation he was involved in a relationship with a 16-year-old boy during his time at the St. Lawrence Parish in Fairhope.
The case made headlines in February, after attorneys for the Mobile Archdiocese attempted to block subpoenas related to its handling of a subsequent investigation after the allegations were brought to light in late 2013.
Since then, the court has determined some of those depositions and Savoie’s personal involvement will not be admissible in court because of attorney-client privileges.
However, this morning Circuit Judge Sarah Stewart said Savoie will have to discuss his personal recollections and disclose the name of his accuser to the plaintiff’s attorneys. She also said the accuser’s name would not be released to the public.
Before Stewart’s ruling, attorneys for St. Pius X argued the allegations against Savoie were neither “temporally or causally” related to the alleged bullying at the school nor the school’s “alleged” lack of a response.
“It’s logically impossible for it to bare on the issues of this case,” Attorney Finn Cox told Stewart. “It’s true that these statements were made to his parish, however it never made its way into open court pleadings and news headlines, where these two attorneys have gone out to given interviews.”
Cox was referring to a letter containing a typed transcript of Savoie’s address to his congregation in February 2014, which went unreported until last month. The address acknowledged the incident and went onto assure the congregation an investigation and polygraph conducted by the church found the allegations wanting.
Attorneys for the school say the letter was marked “confidential” when it was given to plaintiff’s attorneys Christine Hernandez and David Kennedy during the discovery process. They’ve since asked the court for sanctions against the two attorneys, claiming that filing of Savoie’s letter as an exhibit was a breach of that confidentiality.
However, Stewart denied those calls for sanctions and said she would allow the letter to be submitted as evidence. She also went on to accuse the attorneys of attempting to “keep the document from the public,” a charge attorneys for St. Pius X vehemently denied.
“Just because you stamp ‘confidential’ on a newspaper, doesn’t mean it’s not public information,” Stewart said. She went to say the letter couldn’t be confidential because Savoie had made statement from the letter in public previously.
Stewart also characterized bullying and any negligent attempt to prevent kids from being bullied as “a form of abuse” when discussing the relevance of the actuations against Savoie in the St. Pius X bullying lawsuit.
As for the calls for protection under attorney-client privilege, Stewart has yet to issue an official ruling but said during the hearing that questions about Savoie’s personal recollections would be fair game to the plaintiff’s attorneys, though questions about the investigation once it was initiated by attorneys for the school would be considered privileged information.
According to the Baldwin County District Attorney’s office, the church alerted them to the allegations in late 2013. However, based upon the nature of the allegations and the ages of the individuals involved, a representative of the Baldwin County DA’s office said “the alleged conduct did not violate any criminal statutes,” and action was not pursued.
Still, attorneys for the plaintiffs in the case subpoenaed District Attorney Hallie Dixon to appear for a deposition in early March – a deposition the DA did not show up to. Subsequently, the attorneys filed a motion asking the court to hold Dixon in contempt for “ignoring” the subpoena.
Stewart didn’t issue a ruling on the motion for contempt during the meeting, but told Dixon’s attorney Rushing Payne she had violated the subpoena by not complying with the court order to appear for deposition.
As Dixon has previously, Payne said it’s the DA’s policy to not have officers of the court deposed to “protect the state’s interest.” Afterward, he said the office would comply with a “very narrow” request, if the judge orders it.
He also quoted several statues saying “in order to obtain material or testimony related to the DA’s handling of the investigation,” the plaintiff’s would need to prove “undue hardship” that they couldn’t get the desired information from any other source.
Because most of those details would be protected under attorney-client privilege, Stewart told Payne it was likely the plaintiffs wouldn’t be able to get it through the school’s attorneys. She also said withholding the information likely would cause “undue hardship” because of its pertinence to the bullying case.
That being said, Stewart never overtly said Dixon would have to turn over the requested files or submit herself to a deposition. Following the hearing, Payne said he was a little unclear about outcome himself and said he’d wait for an official order form Stewart on the matter.