Lawyers: Victims Should Brace for Trials

Guardian [Boston MA]
April 25, 2003

BOSTON (AP) - Lawyers for dozens of alleged victims of clergy sex abuse say they have told their clients to prepare for trials because settlement negotiations with the Boston Archdiocese are not progressing.

"Essentially everything is stalled," said attorney Jeffrey Newman, whose firm represents about 250 alleged victims.

"We've now written our clients describing the fact that this is now at a standstill and we now have to re-gear to litigate the claims. We've not been give a choice in that regard," he said.

Archdiocese spokesman Christopher Coyne said church lawyers consider the talks productive and have said they have seen movement forward in the past few weeks.

Less than a month remains of a 90-day moratorium on litigation that both sides agree to in February so they could work to settle the lawsuits rather than going to trial. A similar moratorium last summer failed to produce a settlement.

About 500 lawsuits allege that Boston church officials were negligent when they transferred priests from parish to parish rather than removing them after receiving sexual abuse complaints against them.

Carmen Durso, an attorney who represents about 35 alleged victims, said the progress of the talks has been slow, but he is not ready to give up. He said he still hopes the prospect of taking 500 cases to trial will convince the archdiocese to settle.

"I still want to believe that I'm dealing with rational people who recognize that the only alternative is total war, and not a quick one like in Iraq, but one that will go on for 10 years," Durso said.

Bishop Richard Lennon, the interim head of the Roman Catholic archdiocese who took over after Cardinal Bernard Law resigned amid criticism, has said he wants to settle the cases.

But church lawyers have subpoenaed victims' psychotherapists and unsuccessfully tried to get the lawsuits dismissed on First Amendment grounds - tactics that advocates for alleged victims have criticized harshly.

Attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represents more than 100 alleged victims but is not participating in the current settlement talks, said his clients are feeling increasingly angry at the "hardball" legal tactics.

"There's a standdown period, yet the archdiocese is intensely active in trying to get these cases thrown out of court," he said.

Garabedian reached a $10 million settlement with the archdiocese in September for 86 alleged victims of the Rev. John Geoghan, four months after the church backed out of a much costlier agreement. The archdiocese rejected the earlier settlement, worth up to $30 million, saying it could not afford the deal because of hundreds of other lawsuits being filed.


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