Starting to Dig

Because pedophiles tended to be repeat offenders, the Spotlight Team assumed that there would be numerous victims—victims who might be willing to name their abusers. For help tracking down victims, reporters turned to a national organization, SNAP (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests). Within days, they had found victims, who sometimes led to attorneys, who sometimes led to more victims.

It wasn’t long before the archdiocese knew the Globe was snooping around. One reporter spoke to a plaintiff’s attorney who, Robinson would later discover, called Cardinal Law’s attorney. In August, the cardinal sent an emissary, a prominent Boston figure, to ask Robinson what they were doing. Robinson told him that they were only in the reporting stage, and that if they were going to run a story, they would be in touch.

Missing documents. To meet Geoghan’s victims, Rezendes had turned to Attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represented many of them. Neither well-known nor well-off, operating out of a cluttered office without a receptionist, Garabedian reminded Rezendes of the ambulance-chaser played by Paul Newman in the movie “The Verdict.” But Rezendes came to consider Garabedian principled and concerned for his clients. He understood that Garabedian was wary of him out of fear that the Globe would publish a “sensational story that would essentially exploit his clients without doing them any good.” Only after Garabedian saw Rezendes interview his clients for hours and days did his caution start to abate.

The two men developed a mutual respect. In taking on these cases against the church, Garabedian “did something,” says Rezendes, “that nobody else ultimately really had the courage to do.” Rezendes also admired the lawyer’s ingenuity. For example, faced with a state “charitable immunity” statute, which would have capped church liability at $20,000, Garebedian had the idea of suing church officials as individuals.

In late August, Garabedian told Rezendes something tantalizing: Certain documents in the civil cases against Geoghan were already public. Garabedian could have leaked the documents to a reporter much earlier but, fearing the church’s retribution, he had insisted on doing everything by the book. Even in a case with a confidentiality order, a lawyer could buttress motions with documents that then became public. Garabedian had filed motions, with their accompanying records, and hoped that an enterprising reporter would stumble upon them. But to his frustration, by late August that had not happened, so he tipped off Rezendes. Without providing details, Garabedian told Rezendes that the documents were potentially explosive.

But the documents, Rezendes discovered, weren’t in the docket file at the courthouse. Garabedian had filed 14 different sets of documents, and all of them were missing. Rezendes consulted with a Globe attorney. There was a notation on the docket indicating that the documents had been filed. Based on this evidence, Globe attorney Anthony Fuller asked the presiding judge, Superior Court Justice Constance Sweeney, to order that the missing documents be re-filed.

These documents were a subset of the documents the Globe sought to unseal with its earlier lawsuit. That case was proceeding; in early September, Judge Sweeney had heard arguments in a session so under-the-radar that only one journalist, Rezendes, attended. In both the lawsuit and the more limited motion, no one could predict if and when documents would become available.