Church Proposes $25m Settlement
By Robin Washington and Tom Mashberg
April 29, 2003
Emboldened by a recent Supreme Judicial Court ruling and new developments in a major clergy sexual-abuse lawsuit, lawyers for the Archdiocese of Boston are toughening their negotiating position by proposing a $25 million deal to settle hundreds of molestation cases, a source close to the process told the Herald yesterday.
Specifically, church lawyers are proposing the amount to close out some 400 current cases, leaving another 100 to be handled differently.
"The $25 million would be a compromise the (church's) insurance companies could live with," the source said, adding the amount could go up and the archdiocese also would add several million dollars from the sale of property and other means.
Multiple sources said church lawyers were heartened by recent events in the Rev. Paul R. Shanley civil case, in which documents have emerged suggesting plaintiff Gregory Ford of Newton may have been molested by someone else, and by the SJC's ruling in a suit against Brigham and Women's Hospital, in which the court upheld a $20,000 liability cap against charitable institutions.
Archdiocese spokesman the Rev. Christopher Coyne said the SJC ruling is not a factor in the negotiations, however.
"We never intended to rely on the charitable immunity cap. We want to give people what they deserve," he said, adding courts could rule against the church on the immunity issue.
Plaintiffs' lawyers insist they would, maintaining the cap does not apply for improper activities outside of the charitable arm of the church, such as child sexual abuse.
"The idea that that case changed anything is ridiculous," said Carmen Durso, who represents numerous plaintiffs. "These were criminal acts and a conspiracy to cover up those criminal acts."
Attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr., whose firm, Greenberg Traurig, represents Ford and most of the 400 plaintiffs, declined comment.
While Greenberg Traurig and Durso agreed to a moratorium on discovery in most of their church cases, lawyer Mitchell Garabedian, who represents 108 plaintiffs, did not accept the stand-down.
Subsequently, the source said, his cases are not among those to be offered the $25 million.
Complicating matters somewhat is the recent ratings downgrade of Kemper Insurance, one of the archdiocese's main underwriters, after the company posted a $312 million loss last year.
Garabedian dismissed that worry, however, saying insurance companies are themselves insured and the main issue is the church's willingness to settle.
"You hear everything in these cases but an offer," he said.
The church's lead attorney came under fire yesterday for his role as counsel and a member of the archbishop's inner circle.
In the Ford case, Greenberg Traurig filed a brief arguing the church cannot withhold documents under attorney-client or doctor-patient privileges, specifically questioning lawyer Wilson Rogers Jr.'s dual role.
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