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Seven Catholic priests have won the right to intervene in a contentious sex abuse case, to fight disclosure of their personnel files. On Oct. 3, a three-judge panel of Connecticut’s Appellate Court allowed seven “John Doe” priests to intervene for the limited purpose of defending their own reputations. Plaintiff’s counsel William F. Gallagher objected on grounds the state intervention rule explicitly requires an intervenor to have a title or interest in the final judgment. The priests, represented by Mark R. Kravitz, of New Haven, Conn.’s Wiggin & Dana, sought a broader interpretation that would allow intervention when a direct interest of the person is at stake. The seven invoked the analogous Federal Rule 24 of civil procedure, and a comment from Wesley W. Horton’s annotated practice book, which notes that the state intervention language has not changed since 1879. “The recent tendency of the Supreme Court is to ignore the specific embarrassing language” of the state rule “and follow the most analogous Federal Rule.” SYMPATHY ONLY GOES SO FAR Gallagher, in an interview, said he was sympathetic to the priests’ concerns, but said the court’s adoption of the federal rule went too far. “That’s what we have a court Rules Committee for,” he said. The change will have the effect of making civil litigation more complicated, he said, adding “that’s not necessarily a bad thing; there are rights to be vindicated that don’t involve economics.” He said he recognized the priests had an important interest to protect, but said the trial judge, by granting them the right to a hearing to argue against admission of the controversial personnel files, achieved the same result without re-writing the state practice rule. Former Chief Appellate Judge Antoinette Dupont, now a judge referee, wrote for the unanimous panel, which included Socrates H. Mihalakos and Peter T. Zarella. The right to a hearing without intervenor status, wrote Dupont, would deny the priests the ability to brief issues, present evidence and to appeal. GALLAGHER’S VIEWPOINT Gallagher, in an interview, said the appeal right is likely to drag out this protracted litigation. “The whole point of this, from the defendants’ standpoint, is delay, delay, delay.” The case’s 12 plaintiffs allege they were sexually harmed while they were minors by one priest, and that other church personnel turned a blind eye. “The misconduct is so bad, I’m embarrassed to relate it to my wife,” Gallagher said. “This case is an absolute disgrace, and all they do is obfuscate, defend and delay.” The 13-count complaint alleges negligent supervision by a bishop, a monsignor and the Diocese. IMPORTANT NEW RIGHT In Kravitz’ view, the ability to intervene for limited purposes is a major advance for Connecticut litigants. Many people are affected by litigation at a fundamental level without having a monetary stake in the case’s outcome. He cited cases of the news media hoping to intervene for purposes of covering an otherwise closed trial or meeting. Horton, who was not involved in the case, says the appellate court needn’t wait for the rules committee to re-analyze ancient language in court rules, and adapt it to present circumstances. “I firmly believe one of the best ways to misconstrue a word or statute is to read it literally,” said Horton. A “strict constructionist” approach to language written in 1879 is a good way to go off course, he said, because “our whole idea of what constitutes important rights has been broadened.” There are good reasons to give a broader meaning to “interest and title,” Horton said. And when 19th century language in the rules becomes an embarrassment, “turning to the federal rules seems like a good idea.”

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