Zipped Up

S.F. Archbishop William Levada doesn't want the public to know about decades of alleged sexual misconduct by his clerics. But why are district attorneys in San Mateo, Marin, and San Francisco helping him keep secrets?

Shortly after SF Weeklyrequested documents relating to allegations of sex abuse by Catholic clergy, Jack Hammel, the archdiocese's legal counsel, wrote to former Marin DA Kamena to express "shock" that her office had decided to comply with SF Weekly's request "in direct contravention of our previous written agreement."

Hammel reminded her that Ed Berberian, the former assistant DA whom the Marin County Board of Supervisors last week appointed to serve out the remainder of Kamena's unexpired term, had helped draft the protocol. (Kamena resigned from office effective Jan. 4, citing health reasons and the desire to relax and spend more time with her family; Berberian had assumed the role of acting DA weeks before her official departure. Attempts to reach her for comment were unsuccessful.)

Berberian, who had been Kamena's point man on the issue from the start, told SF Weekly in September that he had notified the archdiocese about his boss' plans "as a matter of courtesy."

After Hammel expressed displeasure, however, the DA's Office voluntarily agreed to hold off turning over the materials until the archdiocese could formulate a legal response.

In trying to stop the Marin district attorney from honoring the records request, the archdiocese asserts that releasing the records would cause "irreparable harm" to the privacy and reputations of "priests, victims, and other third-parties." Church lawyers also say it violates the protocol's privacy assurance. The agreement states, "Unless compelled by legal process, or required to be revealed in order to conduct a prosecution, none of the information provided will be provided to the public." At issue is the phrase "Unless compelled by legal process." The DA's Office is unlikely to have agreed to turn over the material unless it was convinced that the newspaper's request falls under the rubric of "legal process."

But in view of the church's vociferous opposition, it isn't clear if Berberian shares the sentiments of his predecessor with respect to releasing the material. Or whether, like San Francisco's Harris and San Mateo's Fox, he would prefer to march to the archbishop's drummer.

Despite voluminous legal arguments filed by lawyers for the church, under Berberian's watch the Marin County Counsel's Office, which represents the DA's Office in the archbishop's action, missed a deadline to respond with written legal arguments as to why the materials should be released. Some legal observers consider failure to file such a brief as tantamount to surrender in the case.

Berberian has declined to discuss the matter, including what role he played in the controversial protocol, until after the judge decides what's to be done with the materials.

Until then, at least, whatever the documents contain remains a contentious secret.

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