CONCORD — A Superior Court judge has halted plans by New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald to produce a comprehensive report about its findings into the sexual abuse of students at St. Paul’s School, ruling that the state’s top prosecutor cannot use grand jury material in the report.
It’s unclear what will happen next or if a report will ever be produced.
The report was promised in a September 2018 agreement signed between MacDonald and St. Paul’s School. St. Paul’s and people connected with the school escaped prosecution in exchange for a five-year plan for St. Paul’s to provide training to staff, services to victims and to better monitor behavior on its campus.
But in August, Merrimack County Superior Court Judge Richard McNamara said MacDonald could not use material from a grand jury, which his prosecutors used during their investigation into St. Paul’s, as part of any report.
In a 23-page order, McNamara wrote that grand jury testimony can involve all sorts of false, damaging and one-sided information, and New Hampshire has no historical or legal basis for releasing such information.
“Mark Twain famously said that a lie is halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes. In an internet age, he might have added that the lie will forever outrun the truth as search engines become ever more efficient,” McNamara wrote.
His ruling decided a case that had been argued in secret.
Eight people who either testified or cooperated with the grand jury retained a lawyer to fight disclosure. David Vicinanzo said they did not want their information or identity out in the public.
He called McNamara’s order a “full-throated defense of the grand jury as an institution.”
“For hundreds of years, the grand jury has been a buffer between the power of the state and the citizen. Confidentiality of witness and cooperator information has been an essential part of how the grand jury works since at least colonial times,” he said.
Likewise, St. Paul’s Rector Kathleen Giles noted the decision keeps the grand jury proceedings secret.
“The confidentiality of grand jury testimony is very, very important in the legal system,” she said. She noted that St. Paul’s will continue to provide semiannual reports to the Attorney General about the school’s progress on dealing with abuse allegations. She doesn’t think McNamara’s order will upend the overall agreement.
“We’re proceeding with the settlement agreement we executed,” she said.
No one was available from MacDonald’s office to answer questions about the order or whether a report will be written and released.
In the order, McNamara noted that other states have a process for the release of grand jury reports, but New Hampshire does not.
MacDonald’s office had argued that precedent exists and pointed to the agreement with former Attorney General Philip McLaughlin and the Diocese of Manchester to release grand jury information.
But McNamara said the judge who oversaw that case should not have allowed it.
“Rather than investigation of crime, the report is a post hoc summary of information the grand jury considered but did not indict on. It did not protect the privacy interests of those witnesses and subjects that were never charged with a crime by the grand jury,” he wrote.