Archdiocese of Philadelphia must turn over PI's witness interviews in sexual assault lawsuit

By Charmaine Little | Jul 17, 2018

PHILADELPHIA - The Archdiocese of Philadelphia was unsuccessful in an attempt to have witness interviews obtained by a private investigator withheld from a sexual assault case, accoridng to an opinion filed June 7 in the Superior Court of Pennsylvania.

The archdiocese was sued by the late Sean Patrick McIlmail’s mother, Deborah McIlmail, alleging that Father Robert Brennan sexually assaulted Sean McIlmail and the archdiocese covered up the alleged act. The opinion said the archdiocese refused to turn over the witness notes and evaluations from a private investigator it hired, despite the plaintiff’s request for the information.

The Superior Court's opinion came in response to an archdiocese appeal that was filed after the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia ruled that the witness interviews were in fact allowed to be requested in discovery.

The trial court also pointed out that the private investigator actually conducted the witness interviews on behalf of the archdiocese's defense counsel.

Superior Court Judge Jack Panella   PA Courts

“Because the interviews were not conducted by an attorney, only the ‘impressions or evaluations’ of the investigator were barred from production, unlike the broader protection the doctrine grants attorneys," the Superior Court said in its opinion.

The Superior Court agreed with the trial court and affirmed both of its rulings. The archdiocese argued that the private investigator was an “agent of the attorney” and not a “party representative,” indicating the investigators notes and files should be protected under the word-product rule.

The Superior Court said the plaintiff’s request to see the documents in question did not violate any rights that would protect the counsel’s work, since the information was actually obtained by the private investigator.

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