Judge Rejects Motion That Would Have Delayed Mass. Priest Lawsuits

By Jennifer Peter
Foster's Daily Democrat [Boston MA]
Downloaded March 4, 2003

BOSTON (AP) - A Superior Court judge Monday denied a motion by the Archdiocese of Boston that would have delayed two lawsuits filed by alleged victims of priestly abuse until the state's highest court had weighed in on a constitutional appeal.

In a separate action, Superior Court Judge Constance Sweeney scheduled a pre-trial conference hearing at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday on these two suits, filed by Gregory Ford and Paul Busa. Both claim that the Rev. Paul Shanley sexually abused them at St. Jean's parish in Newton when they were children.

Last week, the archdiocese appealed Sweeney's decision that the First Amendment's guaranteed right to freedom of religion does not shield the church from the roughly 400 civil suits filed against it. The church asked for litigation to halt until a higher court had resolved this question on appeal.

Sweeney denied that request.

"This is a welcome development for those victims we represent whose cases are ready to be tried," said attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr., who represents Busa and Ford. "Judge Sweeney's decision mean those trials will take place without a lengthy appeal of her order last month denying the archdiocese's motion to dismiss the case. It's very gratifying for the Ford family and Mr. Busa."

On Wednesday, Sweeney will hear a separate request for delay of these two cases, based on the archdiocese's claim that they need more time to prepare depositions.

These two cases were excluded last month from an agreement between the archdiocese and plaintiffs' lawyers to seek a 90-day moratorium on litigation while they pursue settlement talks.

Also excluded from the moratorium are 108 lawsuits filed by attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who refused to sign the stand-down agreement.

The archdiocese on Friday filed a separate motion asking for a delay in responding to plaintiffs' claims against them until the First Amendment question is decided.

Garabedian Monday called the request, which would apply to all the civil suits currently pending against the archdiocese, "a backdoor attempt to stop litigation."

Donna Morrissey, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said that the church is not trying to delay the litigation and remains committed to settling the cases.

"That's our first desire," Morrissey said. "But if we go to trial, the attorneys for the archdiocese must prepare and make sure the defendants' interests are protected."

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