Class-Action Status Give to Lawsuit against Diocese

By Paul Long
The Kentucky Post [Kentucky]
October 1, 2003

A Boone County judge today granted class-action status to a lawsuit alleging a decades-long coverup of sexual abuse in the Diocese of Covington.

Although hundreds of lawsuits have been filed against dioceses across the country, and several have sought to be class-actions lawsuits, the Boone County lawsuit is believed to be the first in the nation to be granted such status.

It means that lawyers Stan Chesley and Robert Steinberg will be able to argue on behalf of as many as 1,000 victims of sexual misconduct by Catholic priests in the Diocese of Covington over the past 50 years.

Circuit Judge Jay Bamberger issued his ruling from the bench after listening to about 90 minutes of attorney arguments witnessed by about 50 victims and their family members in the Boone County courtroom in Burlington.

"Now we're going to move the case forward on behalf of the innocent victims," Chesley said.

"I asked them to be here," he said of the victims. "They are part of the class. This is an open courtroom. We're not going to have closed courtrooms or secret trials."

The diocese did not have an immediate comment.

"I respect the decision, but I respectively disagree," said Carrie Huff, an attorney from Chicago brought in to represent the diocese. Huff previously worked with Bishop Roger Foys when he was the bishop in Steubenville, Ohio.

In his oral order, Bamberger said the first trial in the case will determine whether the diocese isliability for injuries suffered by the victims of abuse, and whether it should pay punitive damages. The second phase will help determine the amount of the individual claims, he said.

No dates have been set for the trials. The next step is to advertise the class-action lawsuit in publications both in Kentucky and across the nation, Steinberg said.

Only those who specifically opt out of the case will not be a part of the lawsuit. Anyone else with a sexual abuse claim against the church will be.


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