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Lawyer: settlement rejection will lead to more litigation against church
By Jennifer Peter, Associated Press, 05/04/02
BOSTON -- Attorneys are promising increased legal retaliation against the Archdiocese of Boston following its abandonment of a multi-million-dollar settlement with alleged victims of a pedophile priest.
Attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who negotiated the $15 million to $30 million settlement for 86 clients, said he will ask a judge Monday to approve the swift deposition of Cardinal Bernard Law and to restrain him from leaving the country. He also said he is exploring suing the church for breach of contract.
"We're back on track. We're going to try these cases," Garabedian said on Saturday. "I'm going to make the public aware of how much decay there is in this church."
The settlement breakdown is prompting attorneys for hundreds of other alleged victims of abuse by priests to explore broadening the civil charges against the church and challenge the state's "charitable immunity" statute, which can limit plaintiff awards to just $20,000 if the case goes to trial.
The archdiocese's financial advisers were wrong if they thought they could control the spiraling cost of damages by rejecting the settlement, attorneys said.
"This one action by the archdiocese, rather than control the litigation, will expand it," said Jeffrey Newman, an attorney who represents more than 100 alleged victims.
The archdiocese outraged alleged victims of abuse Friday by rejecting a two-month-old settlement agreement in the case of defrocked priest John Geoghan.
The Finance Council, a council of lay business people which must review any archdiocese expenditure more than $1 million, said the agreement would cause grave financial damage to the church and could inhibit its ability "to provide a just and proportional response to other victims."
Disappointed plaintiffs said Saturday that the church was penalizing them for its own negligence.
"It's their fault they have a huge influx of victims, not mine," said Mark Keane, of New Hampshire. "They just care about their own well-being, their own financial standing."
Law, whose lawyers had agreed to the settlement, encouraged the Finance Council to endorse it, according to an archdiocese spokeswoman.
Instead, the council proposed setting aside $50 million to distribute to the approximately 400 to 600 victims of abuse in a non-litigious manner.
Under the rejected settlement, some of the plaintiffs would have received more than $500,000 each. Because of the "charitable immunity" clause in state law, some lawyers said, a plaintiff might be limited to just $20,000 even if a jury were to award millions.
The church has manipulated this "charitable immunity" clause, lawyers said, by telling alleged victims they can get far more out of a settlement than a trial as long as they are willing to stay mum on details of the abuse.
"It's been used like a club," said Carmen Durso, an attorney who represents about 25 alleged victims. He has drafted legislation to eliminate the cap in regard to sexual abuse claims.
Sen. Cheryl Jacques, D-Needham, who sponsored the recently enacted law to require priests to report sexual abuse against children, said she was open to eliminating the cap for criminal acts committed by charities.
"If you criminally attack somebody, there should be no cover," Jacques said. "Charities shouldn't be a place for criminals to hide."
Garabedian said he will ask the judge on Monday to set a date for Law's deposition, which was delayed when the settlement was agreed to in March, and require the cardinal to post a $10 million bond that would be forfeited if he left the country.
While a court rejected a similar request Friday, Garabedian said he can now prove Law is not trustworthy because of the archdiocese's actions since then.
The archdiocese had no comment about the scandal Saturday. Law will celebrate Mass on Sunday, as scheduled.
© Copyright 2002 Boston Globe Electronic Publishing Inc.