Abuse Cases Hit Snag: Victims' Lawyer Cut out of Mediation Talks

By Tom Mashberg
Boston Herald
January 26, 2003

A key attorney representing 110 alleged clergy victims expressed anger yesterday at being excluded from recent mediation talks with the church.

He said he would consider suspending his cases only if all lawyers suing the Archdiocese of Boston do the same.

``First they were having settlement talks without me when I was supposed to be part of the mediation process,'' attorney Mitchell Garabedian said.

``Now they want me to `stand down' while other cases get to go forward,'' he said. ``That is not in the best interests of my clients.''

Garabedian said he was contacted Thursday by attorneys for the archdiocese asking him to delay depositions and other pretrial preparations for 90 days so that settlement talks might proceed.

The church has been seeking a ``global settlement'' to deal with some 500 lawsuits emerging from its clergy molestation scandal.

But Garabedian says he balked after church lawyers told him they were not demanding that lawyers for the Greenberg Traurig firm halt preparations in two of their cases against the church.

Those cases, brought by Paul Busa and Gregory Ford of Newton against the church and the Rev. Paul R. Shanley, are nearing a trial date in Suffolk Superior Court.

But Garabedian said he also has cases that are close to trial, and a 90-day moratorium would ``unfairly impact my clients,'' two of whom are more than 80 years old.

``If all the lawyers agree to stand down, that's one thing,'' he said. ``But my clients will not let me stop deposing church officials while other lawyers go forward.''

Garabedian noted in recent weeks he has been busy responding to aggressive motions by the church to have his and other lawsuits thrown out of court.

In one motion, the church argued last week it should not be held liable for the actions of its priests because clergy assignment is a religious freedom protected under the First Amendment. Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney is reviewing the issue.

In another motion, the church sought to have a lawsuit filed by one of Garabedian's clients, David Carney, thrown out on statute of limitations grounds. Sweeney ruled the case could go forward.

``If I had stopped working,'' he said, ``we might have lost those.''

Garabedian said he was still completing a total of 110 demand letters sought by the church so they can evaluate their potential liability in the scandal.

More than a dozen lawyers have so far delivered about 390 claims to the church, seeking more than $100 million in damage awards.

A source familiar with the backroom talks among lawyers said yesterday Garabedian was ``understandably upset'' at having been left out of the mediation loop.

``He's right that it makes no sense for him to give up on his cases for 90 days while other lawyers continue to depose people,'' said the source, who requested anonymity. ``The church has got to get someone in charge.''


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