US judge who ruled in favor of church in key abuse case donated to archdiocese

— Greg Guidry gave the New Orleans church thousands of dollars and now refuses to step down from a case involving 500 victims

Greg Guidry at a hearing for district court nominees held by the Senate judiciary committee in 2019.

By The Associated Press and Guardian staff

A federal judge donated tens of thousands of dollars to New Orleans’ Roman Catholic archdiocese and consistently ruled in favor of the church amid a contentious bankruptcy involving nearly 500 clergy sex abuse victims, an Associated Press investigation has found, but the judge won’t step down from the case.

Confronted with AP’s findings, which had not been previously reported, US district judge Greg Guidry abruptly convened attorneys on a call last week to tell them his charitable giving “has been brought to my attention” and he would consider recusal from the high-profile bankruptcy he oversees in an appellate role.

“Naturally,” Guidry told them, “I will take no further action in this case until this question has been resolved.”

Guidry indicated he would seek guidance from the federal judiciary’s committee on codes of conduct. And in a separate hearing called on Friday, he told attorneys in the case that the committee had approved his continuing to handle appeals related to the bankruptcy.

The reporting by Jim Mustian of the AP on Guidry is only one example of how many links are shared by the New Orleans area’s legal establishment and the local archdiocese, which serves a region with a half-million Catholics and is the oldest to declare bankruptcy amid the clergy sex abuse crisis.

Several of Guidry’s colleagues have recused themselves from the bankruptcy or related litigation, including one who previously worked as the archdiocese’s general counsel, another who has served on a non-profit which supports numerous archdiocesan ministries, and one who acknowledged a role in behind-the-scenes media relations campaigns that executives of the New Orleans Saints football team helped the archdiocese mount after reporting on church sex abuse cases in 2018 and 2019.

The third of those judges last year, though, struck down a Louisiana law which allowed sexual abuse victims to sue the church and other institutions no matter how many years earlier the alleged molestation took place.

Meanwhile, attorneys representing abuse victims in the bankruptcy are seeking to unseal thousands of secret church documents produced as evidence in lawsuits and in an ongoing federal law enforcement investigation of clergy abuse in New Orleans going back decades. Agents involved in that investigation last year spoke with a retired Catholic priest from New Orleans named Lawrence Hecker who has been publicly accused of molesting “countless” children, but he has not been charged with any crimes.

A local federal magistrate, Michael North, ruled against a request to unseal a deposition of Hecker that was taken in a lawsuit accusing him of molestation, even though North’s wife served on a board that manages an archdiocesan-owned healthcare system. North later recused himself, without elaborating on why.

Guidry, for his part, had denied at least one request to unseal some secret church documents. He also recently upheld a $400,000 fine against local attorney Richard Trahant, who represents clergy abuse victims and was accused of violating a confidentiality order when he warned a local principal that his school was employing a priest, Paul Hart, who admitted to sexually molesting a teenaged girl. Hart died last year in November.

Ethics experts had told the AP that Guidry, 62, should recuse himself from handling church bankruptcy appeals to avoid an appearance of a conflict of interest, even if it could significantly delay a proceeding that was initiated in May 2020. But Guidry made clear on Friday he has no intention of doing that, though it remains to be seen if that is the final word on the matter.

AP’s review of campaign finance records found that Guidry, since being nominated to the federal bench in 2019 by the Donald Trump White House, has given nearly $50,000 to local Catholic charities from leftover contributions he received after serving 10 years as a Louisiana state supreme court justice.

Most of that giving, $36,000 of it, came in the months after the archdiocese sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection amid a crush of sexual abuse lawsuits. That included a $12,000 donation to the archdiocese’s Catholic Community Foundation in September 2020 on the same day as a series of filings in the bankruptcy, and a $14,000 donation to the same charity in July of the following year.

But Guidry’s philanthropy over the years also appears to include private donations. Newsletters issued by Catholic Charities of New Orleans, the charitable arm of the archdiocese, recognized Guidry and his wife among its donors for unspecified contributions, in 2017 listing both the judge and his campaign.

The judge previously provided pro bono services and served as a board member for Catholic Charities between 2000 and 2008, a time when the archdiocese was navigating an earlier wave of sexual abuse lawsuits. Catholic Charities was involved in at least one multimillion-dollar settlement to victims beaten and sexually abused at two local orphanages.

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