In Re Grand Jury Investigation

918 F.2d 374 (3rd Cir. 1990)


This is an appeal by P from an order denying its motion to compel the federal grand jury testimony of a Lutheran clergyman concerning subjects discussed during a family counseling session. On November 28, 1985, a fire occurred at a house, located in an all-white neighborhood in the Forest Hills section of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, that had recently been purchased by a black family. The police and fire departments determined that the fire was the likely result of arson. Within several days of the fire, Mr. and Mrs. George Kampich, Mrs. Kampich's adult son, George Shaw (who is not related legally or by blood to Mr. Kampich), and Patty DiLucente, Shaw's fiancée, sought counseling from the Reverend Ernest Knoche ('Pastor Knoche'), a Lutheran clergyman. All four persons lived in the home next door to the site of the fire. Mr. and Mrs. Kampich are members of Pastor Knoche's church. Although Shaw has occasionally attended services at the church, Shaw and DiLucente are not members. In June of 1989, Shaw and DiLucente were married. In November of 1989, some four years after the counseling session, a grand jury convened by the district court for the Western District of Pennsylvania commenced an investigation of the suspected arson. The grand jury was investigating, in particular, possible violations of 42 U.S.C. § 3631, prohibiting racially motivated housing discrimination, and of 18 U.S.C. § 241, prohibiting conspiracies to violate civil rights. P subpoenaed Pastor Knoche to testify before the grand jury about the 1985 counseling session. Pastor Knoche informed the government that he intended to assert the clergy-communicant privilege and would refuse to answer any questions regarding the counseling session. That day, the government filed a motion in the district court to compel Pastor Knoche to testify before the grand jury. The district court held a hearing, and Pastor Knoche stated that family counseling, in contrast to individual counseling, constituted a typical and important part of his ministry. The Pastor responded, further, that forthrightness and truthfulness on the part of participants, such as Mr. and Mrs. Kampich, Shaw, and DiLucente, are essential to proper counseling and, ultimately, to redemption. He concluded that those whom he spiritually counsels expect that he will keep any communications made to him in strict confidence. The district court sustained Pastor Knoche's right to assert a clergy-communicant privilege and denied the government's motion to compel his testimony. This appeal followed.