A lawyer who alerted a Catholic high school to past sexual misconduct by its chaplain has been fined $400,000 for violating confidentiality rules by speaking out. Attorney Richard Trahant says he'll appeal the decision handed down Tuesday, which gives him 30 days to pay the Archdiocese of New Orleans, per NOLA.com. He admits alerting Brother Martin High School to allegations that priest Paul Hart had engaged in "dry sex" with a 17-year-old member of a church youth group in 1990, though he denied initiating the incident, per the Guardian. A federal judge in June, however, found Trahant violated confidentiality rules governing a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing by the archdiocese.
Trahant learned of a 2012 complaint against Hart, which the archdiocese hadn't acknowledged publicly, while sitting on a committee to represent the archdiocese's clergy abuse claimants, including several clients. He knew a 2013 church investigation had confirmed the allegations but found the student wasn't a minor under church law, as the church considered 16 to be the age of majority at the time, per NOLA. In January, Trahant notified his cousin, Brother Martin's principal, and Hart quickly retired. Trahant also told a Times-Picayune reporter to keep Hart on his "radar," without going into specifics, before the paper reported on the claims, per the Guardian.
The federal bankruptcy judge, Meredith Grabill, subsequently ordered a leak investigation, as the complaint against Hart was "highly confidential information," per WWL. She ruled against Trahant and on Tuesday added the $400,000 fine, saying it came from the cost of the leak investigation. This will "serve the desired purpose of deterring Trahant and others from engaging in similar misconduct," the judge wrote, per the Guardian. But in a deposition, Trahant said if given such a report in the future, "I'm going to do something about it 10 out of 10 times." In court, he added he was "personally offended that ... I'm the bad guy here when there are pedophiles walking around" and "nothing has happened to them," per NOLA. (More priest sex abuse stories.)