Boston Church Leader Hires Lawyer Known for Settlements

By The New York Times
July 9, 2003

BOSTON, July 8 Bishop Sean P. O'Malley, who will assume control of the Archdiocese of Boston this month, has hired a lawyer known for swiftly settling sexual abuse cases to advise him on the nearly 500 legal claims pending against the archdiocese. The move buoyed plaintiffs' lawyers, who have been working to resolve the cases for more than a year.

The lawyer, Thomas H. Hannigan Jr., met with plaintiffs' lawyers and the Superior Court judge presiding over the cases at a status conference this morning. Lawyers in the cases have appeared in court several times in the past four months and twice halted litigation to focus on a settlement.

"It was a helpful session, at least to me, in getting up to speed on these matters," Mr. Hannigan said.

He would not elaborate on what happened, in accordance with the request of the judge, Constance M. Sweeney. Mr. Hannigan has also met privately with plaintiffs' lawyers.

In 1992, Mr. Hannigan helped Bishop O'Malley settle 101 suits against the Diocese of Fall River, Mass., all of which accused a former priest, James Porter, of abuse. The first and largest group of settlements, with 68 plaintiffs, occurred about four months after Bishop O'Malley took charge of the diocese. In January, Mr. Hannigan helped reach a $5.8 million settlement with 14 men who accused a priest of the Jesuit New England Province of abuse.

"The whole tone has changed," said Roderick MacLeish Jr., a plaintiffs' lawyer who worked with Mr. Hannigan on the Fall River and Jesuit cases. "I'm more hopeful now than ever that these cases will come to a resolution. We understand each other. There's a minimum amount of posturing because we know each other very well."

Jeffrey Newman, who, along with Mr. MacLeish, represents about half of the cases against the archdiocese, said he was "guardedly optimistic" that an agreement could be reached in the next few weeks. But Mitchell Garabedian, who represents 114 plaintiffs, said there was an "enormous amount of work" ahead. Mr. Garabedian said plaintiffs' lawyers and Mr. Hannigan would meet with a mediator on Friday.

Mr. Hannigan said he was acting as Bishop O'Malley's "personal counsel," and would not comment on whether he would supplant Wilson D. Rogers Jr., the church's longtime lawyer. Mr. Rogers has been accused of playing legal hardball by deposing victims' therapists. The Rev. Christopher Coyne, an archdiocesan spokesman, said Mr. Rogers's firm would still represent the archdiocese, as Bishop O'Malley cannot change lawyers until he is installed on July 30. Mr. Rogers did not respond to a telephone call seeking comment.

Bishop O'Malley underscored his desire for a quick settlement at a news conference last week about his appointment, saying, "People's lives are more important than money." In Fall River, the diocese borrowed and used its own money to pay the settlements, and then sued its insurance carrier to recoup some of the money. Mr. Newman said such a step was needed here.

The archdiocese has been negotiating with its insurance companies since last summer, and a 30-day moratorium on litigation ended unsuccessfully on June 27 after archdiocesan officials said they had unresolved issues with the companies.

Father Coyne said that the church had sold property to collect settlement money, but that he did not know how much property or money was involved. He said the archdiocese would not sell its chancery, which is adjacent to Boston College in suburban Brighton and has been valued at $28 million.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.