Last year, after a two-year investigation, a state grand jury issued a scathing report that found credible allegations of sexual abuse by more than 300 priests, with thousands of victims.
If the legislature acts in favor of a Pennsylvania Supreme Court task force’s recommendation, the state may never see one of those reports again. In its own report, released Friday, the court’s Investigating Grand Jury Task Force proposed eliminating grand jury reports.
The idea is among 37 recommendations by the task force, convened in July 2017 to review the investigating grand jury system and suggest improvements.
The task force included judges, a law school professor, and lawyers, including Linda Dale Hoffa, a Center City criminal defense attorney at Dilworth Paxson and a former federal prosecutor, and Ronald Eisenberg, a chief deputy in the state Attorney General’s Office.
Many of the proposals could be enacted by the Supreme Court through amendments to procedural rules or changing administrative practice. Others, like the one to abolish grand jury reports, would require passage by the legislature.
In a statement Friday, the state Attorney General’s Office criticized the proposal to abolish grand jury reports, saying it would “have a negative impact on the justice system and disregards the crucial way these proceedings provide transparency about our government and powerful institutions.”
“Without these reports, exposure of systematic child abuse, public corruption, and other misconduct is almost impossible. The reforms from our grand jury report on clergy sexual abuse, which passed the Pennsylvania legislature this week, would not exist without these reports. These are real issues that affect the lives of real people, and this process remains a critical means to getting to the truth and addressing structural problems in need of reform.”
The Attorney General’s Office released the results of its two-year grand jury probe into clergy sex abuse in August 2018, more than a decade after Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham became the first prosecutor in Pennsylvania to use the grand jury system to expose decades-old clergy sex abuse. Her office’s report was released in 2005.
In its report Friday, the task force did not say which members agreed with or dissented on any of its recommendations. Hoffa declined to comment on whether she agreed with the proposal to abolish grand jury reports, but said the task force’s “effort was incredibly collaborative.”
The four members who proposed that grand jury reports be abolished are concerned with violating the due-process rights of people who are critically identified in a report.
Of the three dissenters to that recommendation, one believes people who are not charged with crimes should not be named in a grand jury report. The other two say the attempt to eliminate such reports is an attack on the government’s ability to expose official corruption and institutional misconduct, according to the task force’s report.
Correction: A previous version of this article said that a person who is critically identified in a grand jury report has no statutory right to be heard or to respond to criticisms at the time the report is issued. Pennsylvania statute, however, does provide a supervising judge discretion to allow a named individual to submit a response to the allegations in a report and to allow the response to be attached to the report when it is released.