NOLA District Attorney joins effort to unseal secret Archdiocese records for criminal investigation

It’s the first time that law enforcement has made moves to expose secret records the Archdiocese has fought to protect for decades.

NEW ORLEANS — Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams is urging a federal court to unseal sworn testimony by the Rev. Lawrence Hecker, as well as records held in secret by the New Orleans Archdiocese about Hecker, saying his office needs them to bring potential criminal charges against the accused child molester.

“The continued sealing of the documents in this case serves as a major impediment to a proper investigation,” Williams wrote in a motion filed Tuesday. “Sworn deposition testimony concerning the commission of a crime should not be withheld from a prosecutorial authority merely because reputations may be harmed. Evidence that a crime has been committed should be brought before the proper court.”

It’s the first time that law enforcement has made moves to expose secret records the Archdiocese has fought to protect for decades. 

Even after the local church placed Hecker on a list of priests credibly accused of child sexual abuse in 2018, the Archdiocese has argued its 2020 bankruptcy prevents the records from being released.

The motion by Williams supports efforts by attorneys representing one of Hecker’s alleged victims, a man who sued the Archdiocese and Hecker in 2019 under the pseudonym JW Doe. 

One of those attorneys, Richard Trahant, immediately filed another brief Tuesday accusing the Archdiocese of asking the court “to condone its cover-up.”

“The Archdiocese wants the Court to know that its right to conceal its own documents is greater than law enforcement’s and the public’s right to protect children,” wrote Trahant, who was fined $400,000 for violating a court’s secrecy order when, after seeing sealed internal church records in the Archdiocese’s bankruptcy case, he warned officials at a local Catholic high school that the school chaplain had admitted to sexual contact with a student.

The Archdiocese argued in a filing last week that Hecker was 89 years old, rambling and incoherent when he gave sworn testimony in a deposition in 2020, after the church had filed for bankruptcy protection. 

The church said it had reported several allegations against Hecker to the authorities long ago and there’s nothing in Hecker’s testimony or the internal church documents that would help a criminal investigation. 

The church argued JW Doe’s attorneys spent the majority of Hecker’s deposition focusing on the actions of the Archdiocese, not trying to expose criminal activity.

“The motivating factor all along was an attempt to prosecute a case against the Archdiocese in the media,” attorneys for the Archdiocese argued.

The church also argued that the latest effort to unseal the records related to Hecker is no different than one in 2020, which was denied by U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael North, who found unsealing the records would violate the automatic stoppage of civil claims once the Archdiocese went into bankruptcy.

But since then, North recused himself from matters involving the church.

And last year, the U.S. Bankruptcy Trustee, an administrator of the federal Justice Department, asked the bankruptcy court to let him report crimes to the proper agencies without violating that court’s secrecy order, after seeing some of the evidence filed under seal in that case.

The new effort to unseal Hecker’s testimony and documents is set to be heard by Judge Jane Triche Milazzo on June 15.

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