Grand juries have deeply rooted subpoena rights, a state appeals court ruled in rejecting a defense attorney’s challenge of a grand jury subpoena of personnel records of priests investigated for allegedly molesting minors.
“Consequently, a grand jury subpoena issued through normal channels is presumed to be reasonable, and the burden of showing unreasonableness must be on the recipient who seeks to avoid compliance,” Presiding Justice Joan D. Klein wrote in the ruling issued Monday by the three-justice panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal.
If no further appeals are filed, officials said the court will likely appoint a special master to review the personnel records to determine if any require state confidentiality protections.
Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, who has been waiting for the documents for more than six months, hailed the ruling as a “landmark decision.”
“It means we can proceed on a lot of cases,” said spokeswoman Jane Robison. “It has a lot of potential for prosecutors in sex abuse cases in California.”
The court’s ruling arose from a grand jury investigation into molestation allegations against Michael Stephen Baker, Michael Wempe and David Granadino, all formerly or currently employed by the Los Angeles County Archdiocese.
After much legal wrangling, church officials presented prosecutors the personnel files in question.
Attorney Don Steier, who represents the three, appealed the action, arguing that no state law exists granting grand juries subpoena powers.
Although no such law exists, the appeals court said grand juries have a “deeply rooted” Anglo-American legal tradition of issuing subpoenas.
“Petitioners are wrong,” the court said of the priests’ position.
Archdiocese attorney Mike Hennigan noted that the church took no position on the issue.
“We have been neutral on this one,” Hennigan said. “We presume now that the proceeding will get under way again and we will continue to cooperate.”