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Retired judge will be special master in lawsuit against Archdiocese

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Ramsey County Judge John Van de North has selected a retired jurist to serve as special master in a contentious legal battle over the release of internal church documents on Catholic priests accused of child sexual abuse.

Retired Minnesota Court of Appeals Judge Robert Schumacher has accepted the appointment, Van de North said in a letter to attorneys.

Explore the full investigation Clergy abuse, cover-up and crisis in the Twin Cities Catholic church

Schumacher will preside over discovery disputes in a lawsuit filed against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona by a man who claims that the Rev. Thomas Adamson sexually abused him when he was a boy. The lawsuit has already led to the release of names of priests deemed credibly accused of child sexual abuse by church officials. 

Van de North recommended the appointment because of lengthy and complicated disputes between lawyers about the church's internal files.

Attorneys representing the man have asked Catholic officials to turn over thousands of pages of documents on priests accused of abuse dating back to the 1970s. The attorneys are looking for evidence that would indicate a pattern of covering up alleged sex crimes by priests.

Church lawyers sought unsuccessfully to block those requests and tried to convince the Court of Appeals to intervene. The court declined, and Van de North ordered church lawyers to provide the documents by March 31. Most of the documents cannot be filed under seal, Van de North ruled.

The case could provide an unprecedented look at how bishops handled abuse allegations for decades.

Van de North and the attorneys still need to agree on the role of the special master. In his letter, the judge said he wants both sides to agree that the special master's rulings on discovery disputes will be final.  

Attorney Mike Finnegan, who represents the alleged victim in the case, said he is pleased with the appointment and doesn't anticipate any significant disputes over the role of the special master.

"Our goal here is to advance the case and make sure that the truth is discovered and that all the documents and depositions get released to the public," Finnegan said. "And we believe that having a special master in place here will help speed the process along."

A spokesman for the archdiocese did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Archbishop John Nienstedt is scheduled to testify under oath in the case next week.