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  A Diocesan 'Shell Game'
$5m Lawsuit Targets Bishop's Perks, Lack of Salary

By Stephanie Saul
Newsday [Long Island NY]
July 16, 2003

Bishop Thomas Daily presides over the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, a job with perks a staff, first-class travel and the use of a mansion. Yet lawyers for Daily claim he is not paid as an officer or director of the diocese and, therefore, can't be sued.

Judges in state appellate court in Brooklyn will take up that argument today, after a lower court judge in Queens, Justice Duane Alphonse Hart, last month accused the diocese's lawyers of running a "shell game" and ordered them to turn over all of Daily's financial records.

The fight over Daily's legal liability is the latest tack in a lawsuit by the former principal of St. Elizabeth School in Ozone Park. Principal Barbara Samide last year accused the parish's then-pastor, the Rev. John Thompson, of sexually abusing her. Her $5-million lawsuit also names the diocese, Daily and several of his deputies.

Thompson has denied the abuse allegations, but he pleaded guilty to stealing $95,000 in parish funds. He was sentenced to probation and ordered to make restitution.

In claiming Daily can't be sued, the diocese is relying on a state law designed to protect unpaid officers of non-profit organizations from legal action. Samide's lawyer, Michael Dowd, argues that it shouldn't apply to the bishop.

Hart appeared to agree.

"I think it is disingenuous for the Diocese of Brooklyn to play what I view as a shell game," he said in last month's hearing. "Corporate hats. No paperwork. We are not responsible for this, even though we run the show. We are not responsible for that, even though we as the hierarchy of the church run that. When they get sued, well, we are not getting paid for this. We are not getting paid for that."

Hart ordered the diocese to prove its claim by producing financial records for Daily and three aides. The order includes tax returns, travel records, entertainment records, clothing allowances and records of any stipends.

"I'll give the appellate division a chance to reverse me, as they have done on occasion," said Hart, a Roman Catholic, as diocesan lawyer Richard Cea strenuously objected to the ruling.

In an appeal, Cea accused Hart of becoming "an active litigant rather than the impartial arbitrator required by both the letter and spirit of the law."

The issue is before the appellate division, second department, in Brooklyn.

 
 

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