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  'John Doe' Cases Unfair to Accused, Church Says

By Jay Weaver
The Miami Herald [Miami FL]
Downloaded March 23, 2003

John Doe sued the Archdiocese of Miami last fall, alleging he was sexually abused as an 8-year-old in the Operation Pedro Pan program for Cuban children.

A former altar boy, also identified only as John Doe, filed a molestation suit against the archdiocese and two priests.

A woman, named as Jane Doe in court documents, sued the archdiocese and a priest who allegedly abused her while she was a student at a Catholic high school in Palm Beach County.

To fight such lawsuits, the archdiocese and a few accused priests have adopted a more aggressive legal strategy in recent months by trying to force those anonymous plaintiffs to reveal their identities in open court.

On Monday, a Palm Beach judge will consider whether the woman who accused the Rev. Charles Cassetta of abusing her in the early 1970s will be required to identify herself publicly.

Attorneys for the nameless plaintiffs say they are outraged by such defense tactics.

"They are trying to out the victims to shame them all over again," said Miami attorney Ronald Weil, who is representing the Palm Beach woman and the man in the Pedro Pan case. "These are the same tactics they used to force the victims to remain silent all these years."

IN CONFIDENCE

The plaintiffs' attorneys say they have given -- or tried to give -- the names of their clients in confidence to defense lawyers so they can prepare for trial. The anonymously filed cases account for about half of the 22 clergy sex-abuse lawsuits in South Florida.

In his Palm Beach case, Weil said he gave his client's name to the archdiocese in confidence. But when he offered it to the priest's attorney under the same terms, the lawyer rejected it.

Weil said he also tried to turn over the name of his Pedro Pan client to the archdiocese, but this time church lawyers rejected the offer.

Archdiocese and priests' attorneys did not return calls for comment.

Under Florida civil court rules, a lawsuit must "contain the name of the first party on each side with an appropriate indication of other parties."

But there are some narrow exceptions allowing plaintiffs to file under John Doe, Jane Doe or another pseudonym. Anonymity is commonly permitted in cases involving child sexual abuse, abortion, artificial insemination, mental illness, personal safety, homosexuality, transsexuality and illegitimate or abandoned children in welfare cases.

JUDGE DECIDES

In such cases, a judge decides whether the plaintiff has a privacy right that outweighs the requirement for an open court proceeding.

In the Palm Beach case, the woman alleged Cassetta sexually assaulted her 10 times while she was a student at Cardinal Newman High School, which was under the control of the Archdiocese of Miami at that time.

In court papers, archdiocese attorney James Gilbride argued the lawsuit should be dismissed because the woman refuses to identify herself.

"It would violate all notions of due process if the defendant were required to respond to ancient allegations in which the defendant was not even aware of the plaintiff's identity," Gilbride wrote.

"It is even more insulting in the context of this case, wherein the defendant stands publicly accused of committing conduct antithetical to the purpose and mission of the Catholic Church more than 30 years ago."

The attorney for Cassetta agreed.

"It is the indisputable public policy of Florida to protect minor victims of sex crimes from unnecessary public exposure," wrote West Palm Beach attorney Justus Reid in a court pleading. "However, given the suspect facts of this case . . . plaintiff's concerns about exposure are not outweighed by Mr. Cassetta's ability to ascertain the identity of his accuser and the public's right to know who is using their courts."

Weil's other John Doe client alleged he was sexually abused after the archdiocese placed him with a Sioux City, Iowa, orphanage as part of Operation Pedro Pan, which helped children fleeing the Castro regime. The plaintiff alleged that as an 8-year-old, he was repeatedly assaulted by a nun identified as "Sister Jude" from September 1961 to May 1962.

'FAIRNESS' ISSUE

In that case, the archdiocese said "fundamental fairness" should require the plaintiff to go public with his name.

"The Archdiocese encourages people to come forward with allegations of abuse, and plaintiff's public disclosure of his identity will help identify potential witnesses to investigate plaintiff's allegations," Gilbride wrote in a dismissal motion.

Earlier this month, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Roberto Pineiro denied the archdiocese's motion in the Pedro Pan case.

In another Miami-Dade case, an unidentified man sued the Rev. Ricardo Castellanos and the late Rev. Jose Nickse, claiming they sexually abused him from 1979 to 1982 while he was an altar boy at St. Brendan's Church in Westchester.

The archdiocese did not ask a judge to require the disclosure of the plaintiff's name. But Nickse's attorney did.

'The plaintiff is not entitled to appear anonymously as `John Doe' in these proceedings and does not have the right to present his claim under a pseudonym and to keep his identity confidential," wrote Fort Lauderdale attorney Douglas McIntosh.

In January, Circuit Judge Ronald Friedman denied McIntosh's motion to dismiss the case on that and other points of law.

The plaintiff's attorney, Sheldon Stevens of Cocoa Beach, called McIntosh's motives transparent.

"The actions on behalf of Nickse are an attempt to intimidate and embarrass my client and to cause other injured individuals to think twice about coming forward," Stevens said, adding that he had turned over John Doe's name in confidence to the defense.

NAME IS KNOWN

"They know and have known for a long time who my client is and where he lives," Stevens said. "Therefore, making his name public serves no reasonable or practical purpose except to cause further injury to my client."

Although South Florida judges seem inclined to protect the identities of plaintiffs who were allegedly abused as minors, that is not always the case with alleged adult victims.

Last June, a Miami-Dade judge ruled that an unidentified woman who filed a sexual battery lawsuit against another Catholic priest must disclose her real name to go forward with her complaint. She has since refiled the suit under her name, Celise Justiz.

Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey's reasoning for disclosure: The woman was an adult employee when the Rev. Jan Malicki of St. David Church in Davie allegedly assaulted her.

But the judge allowed another of Malicki's accusers, known as Jane Doe I, to remain anonymous because she was a teenager when the alleged abuse occurred.

Malicki has denied the accusations and sued the archdiocese for defamation.

"The plaintiffs should suffer the consequences of filing the lawsuit," said Malicki's Miami attorney, Ellis Rubin. "It's not fair to name a defendant and remain anonymous. I wanted the young girl's identity to be known for the same reason as the older woman's. "Look at what happened to Malicki. His life has been destroyed."

 
 

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