Editorial: Time to Let the Lawyers in

Journal Sentinel [Milwaukee WI]
March 6, 2003

In announcing Thursday that they were suing the Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese, five alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse said in a news release that they were forced to do so because Archbishop Timothy Dolan refuses to engage in meaningful mediation in their cases. The archdiocese takes issue with that accusation, but if it wants to maintain its credibility in this matter, archdiocesan officials need to change the perception that they are trying to dictate the setting and terms of mediation.

Archdiocesan spokesman Jerry Topczewski told us Thursday that the archdiocese is engaged in mediation in cases unrelated to five lawsuits that were filed in December and the additional five filed Thursday. He also said the archdiocese has sent the names of possible mediators to the attorney of the plaintiffs who filed their suits in December but hasn't received a response.

We agree with the archdiocese that a positive response from the plaintiffs on selecting a mediator would be welcome. But we still believe that the larger responsibility for this impasse lies with the archdiocese.

The hang-up apparently is being caused by Dolan's expressed desire to keep lawyers out of the mediation process. The archdiocese also would like to see mediation without lawsuits attached. The reality is that none of that is going to happen in these cases and probably a slew more.

It was church officials, not lawyers, who betrayed these victims in the first place. How can victims be blamed for not wanting to meet with church officials without a lawyer nearby? Victims advocates also argue that if the lawsuits are dropped, victims will lose all leverage with the archdiocese.

Some of that message may be getting through to the archdiocese. Topczewski said Thursday that no one has formally asked the archdiocese to change its position on mediation, but that if someone did, "We'd be open to adjusting" some elements. He also said Dolan is simply interested in reducing the "combative nature of litigation." That's certainly a worthwhile goal, but the best way of doing that in these cases may be to agree to have lawyers present in the mediation process and to forget about trying to get plaintiffs to drop their lawsuits before mediation begins.

Let the lawyers in, and start mediating in good faith. Start with that, and other good things may follow.

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