Civil sexual complaint mired in secrecy

Steve Gonzalez May 5, 2006, 1:55pm

If the identities of parties involved in a sexual assault lawsuit filed April 21 in Madison County Circuit Court were known, "heads would spin," remarked an officer of the court bound by ethics from revealing anything more.

A double layer of secrecy envelops 06L365, sealed and impounded by former Chief Judge Edward Ferguson in the final days of his administration. At the request of plaintiffs, Ferguson also allowed plaintiffs and defendants to be identified with fictitious names in the lawsuit brought in the court's Civil Law Division.

Circuit Judge Daniel Stack, who was assigned to the mysterious case, dismissed it Friday at the request of plaintiffs and ordered it be expunged from the record. He said plaintiffs have one year to refile the case.

The plaintiffs were John Doe, by his mother and friend, Julie Doe, Joseph Doe, Jane Doe, by her mother and friend, Julie Doe, Mary Doe and James Doe.

Defendants' were John Roe, John Roe, II, John Roe, III, and John Roe IV.

Stack said the purpose of filing a lawsuit under fictitious names is possibly to protect the identities of juveniles.

But he also said that "there are other ways to protect juveniles." Before it was dismissed, Stack said he would considering unsealing the case.

Stack said he was not aware of the lawsuit until a group of reporters asked him about it.

He looked up 06L365 on his office computer and learned that the case was indeed his and confirmed the case was impounded and sealed by Ferguson.

"I did not impound the case," he said.

Public access computers at the courthouse show that the case does not exist.

After reviewing the file on his computer Stack told The Record the names of the parties in the case, and noted that plaintiff's counsel was not listed.

He said that Ferguson had to enter an order allowing plaintiffs' use of fictitious names.

When asked on Thursday if he would unseal the case Stack said, "Well, I have yet to even look at the case or talk to the parties involved."

Since the unusual case was filed, Ferguson has been replaced by fellow Circuit Judge Ann Callis. She was attending a swearing-in ceremony of 140 new lawyers in Collinsville on Thursday and unavailable for comment.

Ferguson also was unavailable for comment at press time.

No hearings had been set in the matter.

Stack said that the defendants may have been unaware the case has even been filed.

He sais he was inclined to allow the press access to the case.

"I do not think you can keep the press from attending public hearnings," he said. "However, if someone needs to be protected, I could issue a gag order from preventing certain aspects of the case becoming public."

Stack is currently involved in a medical malpractice trial against a Troy doctor.

While the identity of the parties are unknown at this time, several sources tell The Record that the defendant is a person who is a household name in the legal community, but not a current or former judge.

Usually when new lawsuits are filed in the Civil Division of the Madison County Courthouse daily at 3:30 p.m., clerks put all the cases filed that day on a side counter for the press to review and take notes if needed.

Steve Korris and Ann Knef contributed to this report.

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