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Justices order child sexual abuse jury report be kept sealed

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Pennsylvania’s highest court is directing a county judge to permanently seal a grand jury report into child sexual abuse that occurred too long ago to file criminal charges

HARRISBURG, Pa. —
A grand jury’s findings about a central Pennsylvania man who said he victimized about 16 to 18 people will remain permanently sealed because the child sexual abuse report did not recommend government changes in the public interest, the state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

The justices issued a unanimous opinion in the case of a Franklin County man whose alleged acts apparently occurred too long ago to be charged criminally.

Justice Max Baer wrote that it is not in the public interest, as the term is used in the Investigating Grand Jury Act, “to utilize an investigating grand jury report to mete out punishment or provide relief for specific victims of unproven, albeit serious, crimes when the traditional means of bringing an individual to justice — e.g., criminal prosecution — are otherwise unavailable.”

The man’s Carlisle lawyer, Brian Platt, said grand jury secrecy rules limited what he could say about the matter.

“We’re happy with the court’s ruling in the case and that’s really the only comment that I have about it,” Platt said.

A message seeking comment was left for Franklin County District Attorney Matthew Fogal.

Information regarding the investigation and the man’s testimony was made public in June, when the high court unsealed documents related to the appeal.

The grand jury probe began with a single victim, wrote Franklin County Judge Carol Van Horn, but others later came forward, including four men who said they were teens when they were sexually abused about four decades earlier.

Van Horn said the report should be made public, saying the man “estimated the number of victims of his abuse to be 16 to 18” and noting he chose not to have a lawyer present during his testimony. She wrote that jurors wanted to issue the report and provide counseling resources, “given the reference to the number of victims by all who testified.”

Baer noted the Investigating Grand Jury Act defines reports as related to organized crime or public corruption, or recommending legislative, executive or administrative action in the public interest.

The Supreme Court dealt with issues related to grand jury secrecy in late 2018, when it granted a request by 11 Roman Catholic clerics to keep their names out of a separate investigative grand jury report into sexual abuse of children by priests. That 6-1 ruling justice said keeping secret the priests’ names was the only way to protect their constitutional right to reputation.

The Supreme Court’s own grand jury task force issued a report last month in which a majority recommended ending the practice of issuing grand jury reports.

The nonbinding recommendation, which faces long odds in the Legislature, also urged that reports at least no longer include information that is critical of people by name if they are not expected to face criminal charges.

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