MILWAUKEE –– U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Susan V. Kelley ruled in an Aug. 12 court hearing that Archbishop Emeritus Rembert G. Weakland and retired Auxiliary Bishop Richard J. Sklba will be deposed along with laicized priest Daniel A. Budzynski.
Julie Wolf, communications director for the Milwaukee Archdiocese, said the archdiocese hasn’t been opposed to having depositions taken, which have been scheduled for the weeks of Oct. 17 and 24.
“They (archdiocesan attorneys) believe that the depositions would be better done after the bar date,” she told your Catholic Herald in a phone interview last week, deferring to the reasons listed in the motion submitted by the archdiocese, among which are “little risk of loss of evidence” before the bar date and “it is to prevent unnecessary or overbroad discovery that is wasteful of a debtor’s resources.”
But attorney Michael G. Finnegan of Jeffrey Anderson & Associates, said that earlier depositions are important for the 200 clients they represent. He said their “worry on any one of these three witnesses is that if we don’t take them soon that their testimony won’t be there,” and that their clients will be prejudiced if they wait.
Kelley said while she understands both bishops are in good health, the Aug. 10 death of her 71-year-old friend and colleague, Judge Terence Evans, had her thinking about their ages.
“I saw him in the parking lot less than a month ago and he’s gone,” she said, “so I think it is important if this is the witness that has this critical information, I don’t want to burden him, I don’t want them harassing him and I will, will, will put rules on that his deposition will not be posted on some website, but I want his deposition taken – they’re entitled to that.”
Kelley ruled that there will be “no public dissemination” of the depositions and that they will be filed only with the court, available only to those parties involved in the case. In the hearing, involving the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors and Jeffrey Anderson & Associates, Kelley ruled that the attorneys will have seven hours to depose each bishop, and that the time can be split during two days if necessary.
She also encouraged anyone on either side who felt information in those depositions should be sealed, to file a motion, and made it clear that nothing was to end up on either side’s website.
“Who else is it relevant to? This isn’t about embarrassing these people,” Kelley said, noting old Milwaukee Journal articles irrelevant to the case filed by attorney Robert L. Elliot, counsel for Certain Victim Unsecured Creditors. This is about getting relief for all parties, she said.
Kelley said Elliot also submitted a document with names blacked out sometimes, while left visible in other references. Those documents weren’t relevant in deciding whether Bishop Sklba’s deposition should be taken now or in February, she said.
“That’s the issue we’re here on,” she said.
Kelley requested that documents on her docket be relevant, factual and make the attorneys’ legal arguments.
“Don’t try to embarrass the other side, don’t try to do anything but make your legal arguments, and I’ll decide them; that’s all I’m saying,” she said.
Finnegan disagreed with Kelley’s ruling to keep the depositions confidential on the basis that sharing the information and details with the public prevents sexual abuse from happening in the future. “Even in hearing your justification for publicizing it more, I still have that order,” Kelley said. “I don’t think that’s how you keep it from happening again, by publishing these guys’ depositions – I don’t. I disagree with you respectfully.”
Kelley also told Finnegan to file an order requesting to videotape the depositions, after he argued that it was necessary to protect the knowledge gained in case something happens to anyone deposed. She reminded everyone that deposition videotapes were also never to be posted online.
When “everybody’s a little bit happy and a little bit unhappy, that’s the definition of a successful hearing, thank you very much,” Kelley concluded.