Boston Archbishop Replaces Lawyers in Sexual Abuse Suits

New York Times
August 1, 2003

BOSTON, July 31 In his first significant move as archbishop of Boston, Sean P. O'Malley has replaced the lawyers representing the archdiocese against about 500 claims of sexual abuse with a lawyer known for swiftly settling such cases.

The appointment of the lawyer, Thomas H. Hannigan Jr., was announced in a statement issued by the archdiocese less than 24 hours after Archbishop O'Malley was installed on Wednesday as the leader of Boston's 2.1 million Catholics.

Plaintiffs' lawyers and victims praised the change today, saying it showed that Archbishop O'Malley was interested in settling the cases expeditiously and wanted to avoid prolonged wrangling with victims.

"It's an important step," said Jeffrey Newman, a lawyer who represents about half the plaintiffs and who had previously worked with Mr. Hannigan.

Mr. Hannigan takes over for the firm of Wilson D. Rogers Jr., the longtime lawyer for the archdiocese and Cardinal Bernard F. Law.

"The fact that he did this so swiftly indicates, for us, that Archbishop O'Malley is in charge and has a plan to bring a resolution forward," Mr. Newman said. "The fact that he is willing to move aside Rogers, who has been in total control of the situation for not only the past couple of years but since Cardinal Law was appointed in 1984, shows us they're willing to do what they need to do."

The Rev. Christopher Coyne, an archdiocese spokesman, said Mr. Rogers would be the archdiocese's general counsel only on matters unrelated to sexual abuse by clergymen. But those involved in the cases say Mr. Rogers and his firm will ultimately be phased out of the archdiocesan legal structure.

Calls to the Rogers Law Firm, where Mr. Rogers works with his two sons, were not returned. Mr. Hannigan issued a news release this afternoon stating that he had been retained by the archdiocese, but did not return calls.

Plaintiffs' lawyers and victims have criticized Mr. Rogers's legal tactics, which have included deposing plaintiffs' therapists, saying that they put the victims on trial. Many said they saw him and his small family firm as continuing what they considered the stonewalling tactics of Cardinal Law and an impediment to settlement.

Mr. Newman said the firm carried a lot of baggage by being associated with Cardinal Law, adding that the appointment of Mr. Hannigan would give the cases a fresh start.

"We feel for the first time now we have someone to communicate with who we feel won't, in a heavy-handed way, tell us how things are going to be," Mr. Newman said.

In 1992, Mr. Hannigan helped Bishop O'Malley settle 101 suits brought against the diocese of Fall River, Mass., all of which claimed abuse by a former priest, James Porter. The first settlement, and largest, with 68 plaintiffs, occurred about four months after Bishop O'Malley was installed. In January, Mr. Hannigan settled 14 cases against the Jesuit New England Province for $5.8 million.

"It is my hope that attorney Hannigan's expertise in facilitating settlements in matters such as this will move the process towards a just and timely resolution," Archbishop O'Malley said in a statement.

Mr. Hannigan will inherit hundreds of civil lawsuits here, each significantly different. Many cases accuse a single priest of abuse, but do not name him as a defendant.


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