A federal bankruptcyjudge ordered on Friday that 42 sex-abuse cases pending against theRoman Catholic Diocese of San Diego be released for civil trials toallow people, who were sexually abused as children to get their day inthe court soon.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Louise DeCarl Adler’s ruling has come fouryears after the first in a rush of lawsuits against the diocese. Thediocese sought bankruptcy protection in February, avoiding progress of127 lawsuits but Adler dismissed diocese's arguments saying that thevictims have a constitutional right to jury trials.
“The victims are very encouraged,” said Andrea Leavitt, lawyerfor a group of claimants. “And they are very grateful that the courthas the wisdom to grasp the gamesmanship the victims have beensubjected to for years by the diocese.”
Adler has been never been convinced of the diocese's assertions thatit could go bankrupt if it had to pay compensation to 150-plusclaimants. She criticized the diocese for masking its true financialworth and said that its attorneys were looking for courts that would be more considerate towards them.
Susan Boswell, the diocese's lead bankruptcy attorney, denied the allegations.
Adler repeated that the diocese's $95 million settlement proposalwas far below the state average for such abuse claims. Attorneys of theplaintiffs are looking for a settlement of about $200 million.
“This case is about plaintiffs who want lots of money,” said JohnHarris, a diocese attorney. “But $94 million is not zero, and the wayto resolve this is through estimation.”
In a hearing on Thursday, the diocese maintained that jury trialswould linger on and the outcomes will be fragmented. Its attorneysappealed to have the federal court set a dollar value on the claims andask the victims to reject or accept that offer. The ones, who refuse,could pursue trials in federal court.
They claimed it was the best way for all of the victims to receive quick compensations.
Although the victims and their attorneys were delighted at Adler’sdecision, Jim Stang, an attorney for the victims committee, wasconcerned that Adler must take the step of formally removing the staysplaced on the 42 cases after the diocese filed for bankruptcy.
Her decision is expected on December 6. Until the stays are lifted, Stang said, “The green light has not been given.”
In a letters to parishioners, San Diego Bishop Robert Brom said thathe has dual goals: to justly compensate the victims and keep thechurch's finances healthy enough that it can continue its mission andministry.
If stays on the lawsuits are lifted on September 6, a hearing willthen be held before Superior Court Judge John Einhorn to resolve thestatus of four cases that were to begin trial shortly after thebankruptcy petition was filed.