Judge: Fuse Priest Child Abuse Suits

By Felisa Cardona
San Bernardino Sun [California]
Downloaded March 22, 2003

Hundreds of potential sexual-abuse lawsuits against Catholic priests and California dioceses including San Bernardino should be coordinated into one case, a judge recommended Friday in Los Angeles.

Superior Court Judge Elihu M. Berle said coordinating the cases at least 10 have been filed, but an estimated 300 are pending would quicken the pace of hearings and "avoid duplicative and inconsistent rulings.'

His recommendation, criticized by some plaintiffs' attorneys and embraced by others, now goes to California Chief Justice Ronald M. George.

George is expected to agree with the recommendation, then assign the case to a Los Angeles judge.

Several lawsuits have been filed against the Diocese of San Bernardino before and since the state Legislature extended the statute of limitations on sexual-abuse lawsuits through the end of this year.

The Rev. Paul Shanley, a notorious figure in the Catholic sexual-abuse scandal in San Bernardino and Boston, was sued by a Big Bear Lake man who says the priest molested him and pimped him to other men.

Kevin English, 30, filed the lawsuit in San Bernardino Superior Court. He also sued Shanley's former supervisors who transferred him to San Bernardino, the Archdiocese of Boston and retired Boston Cardinal Bernard F. Law.

Berle decided that "Los Angeles is the appropriate site because it is the location of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, a defendant in seven of the cases; it is the place where records and witnesses are located; and the location of the court where mediation and/or settlement proceedings are being conducted.'

He said cases against the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the dioceses of San Bernardino, Orange, San Diego, San Francisco and others "share common allegations and common facts of law,' making coordination appropriate.

It would also "remove the strain from some courts in a time of budgetary constraints,' Berle said.

In another San Bernardino case, a 26-year-old Southern California woman has sued Monsignor Patrick J. O'Keeffe, alleging that he fondled her while she was a 14-year-old parishioner.

The lawsuit, filed Sept. 26 in West Valley Superior Court in Rancho Cucamonga, alleges that O'Keeffe molested her while she attended St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church in Chino in 1990.

The woman alleges that O'Keeffe slapped her across the face and told her to keep her mouth shut when she went to the front of the church to receive a blessing.O'Keeffe, who is facing 15 criminal charges of forced oral copulation in a separate case, has fled to Ireland.

Two sisters, now 20 and 22, sued the Rev. Saul Ayala alleging he had molested them at their home in Hesperia while baby-sitting them.

Ayala sometimes performed services at the Holy Family Catholic Church in Hesperia, according to the suit, while his principal parish was in San Bernardino.

Sandy Graves, 49, was 9 years old when she says she was molested by her parish priest, the Rev. Adalbert Kowalkczyk at Resurrection Academy in Fontana.

A Catholic priest who spent 16 years at St. Joseph the Worker in Loma Linda was sued by a former altar boy who accused him of sexual abuse when the cleric was assigned to a church near San Diego.

The Rev. Paul Gill, who denies the charges, is accused of molesting the boy in 1976, before Gill's transfer to Blythe and then to St. Joseph the Worker Church in Loma Linda, where he retired in 1998.

Two former altar boys, identified in court papers as brothers David T. and Troy T. of San Bernardino County, claim that diocesan officials could have saved the boys from years of sexual abuse in the 1970s and 1980s by a now-imprisoned priest, the Rev. Edward L. Ball, if officials had noticed the warning signs and reported it to authorities.

Ball was assigned to Our Lady of Assumption Catholic Church in San Bernardino.

Raymond P. Boucher, who says he represents about 180 alleged victims, said coordination of the lawsuits could be a "nightmare.'

"If anyone thinks uniting 400 some cases from around the state is going to solve everything, it's just not true,' said the Beverly Hills attorney.

Boucher was in favor of having the Los Angeles and Orange County suits heard together. The two dioceses were joined until 1976.

"There are potential conflicts by adding additional layers of other archdioceses which have no connection. They can get to trial in Fresno, San Bernardino, San Diego and Monterey, but here they will never get to trial. And they will only slow us down.'


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