Abuse Victims Speak out on Settlement
Deal with Archdiocese Archdiocese, Attorney Fees Debated

By Gregory A. Hall
The Courier-Journal [Louisville KY]
Downloaded July 29, 2003

Several victims in the sexual abuse cases against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville choked back tears yesterday as they pleaded in court for or against the proposed $25.7 million settlement and the 40 percent fee attorneys for most victims would get.

The hearing, which lasted more than seven hours, is to resume this morning with the cross-examination of William McMurry, the attorney who filed most of the cases against the archdiocese and who represented the plaintiffs in the settlement.

James M. Shake, the chief Jefferson Circuit Court judge, is holding the hearing to determine whether the settlement, which would resolve 243 cases, is fair to the parties.

About 15 plaintiffs filed written objections or verbally expressed concerns with all or part of the proposed settlement yesterday.

The most emotional moments of a day filled with legal bickering came as 10 victims took the witness stand to voice their views of the settlement.

Michael L. Clark, one of the objectors, detailed his emotional and physical problems after being abused by the Rev. Louis E. Miller as a child at Holy Spirit.

He said the archdiocese having to pay half of its unrestricted assets was not enough of a punishment.

"No individual is being held accountable at the Archdiocese of Louisville," Clark said, adding that the amount of the settlement would encourage church officials to cover up future abuse.

"I hate the slap in the face that we're getting over this," he added.

Later, testifying in favor of the settlement, Michael Turner, the first person to file a lawsuit against the church last year, said that he suffers from similar ailments.

Turner said he would continue to fight for the changes that the lawsuits couldn't accomplish and echoed statements McMurry made yesterday that the plaintiffs risked getting nothing if all the cases were thrown out because of the years between the abuse and the filing of the suits.

"The law was in their (the archdiocese's) favor," Turner said.

Turner, who was abused by Miller when the priest was assigned to St. Aloysius in Pewee Valley, referred to bonding with the Holy Spirit victims as older brothers.

"Until it got to the money, it was an awesome group," he said.

The hearing began with statements from attorneys for various plaintiffs.

McMurry said he never promised any client the right to vote on a proposed settlement, and he said his plaintiffs were advised of their rights throughout their association.

McMurry said the only guarantees he made were that the amount of any settlement would be enough so the general public would view the settlement as an admission of guilt by the archdiocese, although legally it denied all allegations of liability.

About 95 percent of plaintiffs are not objecting, and that shows the soundness of the settlement, McMurry said.

Lawrence Young, an attorney who filed a written objection for nine plaintiffs, asked Shake to reject the settlement because his clients have no way of knowing whether the settlement is fair based on what McMurry and his associates did.

Attorneys for the class failed to have an independent accounting of the archdiocese's financial statements and did not depose Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly, Young said.

If the settlement is accepted, Young asked Shake to reduce the 40 percent fee that McMurry has a contract to receive from most of the 214 people for whom he filed claims.

Young argued that those contracts were based on the cases going to trial. He contended the fee for a settled claim should be far less, suggesting as a model a class-action settlement from the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire, where fees were about 16 percent.

McMurry and Ann Oldfather, a co-counsel with McMurry, said the contracts made no distinction between whether the money was received in a trial or through a settlement.

Plaintiff Jim Strader said he should have been told that McMurry would still get a 40 percent fee. By agreeing to be in the class, Strader said, he did not believe he had given up all rights to know the proposed settlement before it was reached and have a say on whether it was sufficient.

"We're being asked to buy a pig in a poke," he said.

McMurry said he held meetings with groups of plaintiffs and answered questions individually. At no time, he said, did he tell plaintiffs they could veto a settlement. He also referred to the notice sent to all plaintiffs when they had a chance to opt out of the class, which said that decisions of the class attorneys were binding for the plaintiffs.

A dispute over attorney's fees for 26 plaintiffs, who were not represented by McMurry when their complaints were filed, has been resolved, attorneys told Shake.

Oldfather said the attorneys for the class will receive $1,000 from the plaintiffs in each of those cases to cover expenses.


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