Paid to Picket
By Daniel Lyons
September 15, 2003
Antichurch protesters get a little help from their (lawyer) friends.
Amidst the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal, a raft of advocacy groups works nonstop, with rallies, press conferences and conventions, to crank up the rage machine. Some attack the settlement of $55 million reportedly offered by the Boston archdiocese to settle 542 claims, arguing this isn't about money--and that, um, they want more of it.
Which raises a question: Who is funding these groups? In some cases the cash comes from the same plaintiff lawyers who stand to reap windfalls in clergy settlements. "There has been an incestuous relationship between victim lawyers and victim groups for some time," says William Donohue, president of the New York-based Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. "It's a bad stew."
Even some groups agree. Survivors First, a Boston group, refuses to take money from plaintiff lawyers. "I would hate to be seen as a lead generator for plaintiff lawyers," says Paul Baier, the group's founder.
Yet the largest national group, Snap (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), with 4,600 members, lists as its number one donor Laurence E. Drivon. The Stockton, Calif. lawyer, who represents 320 plaintiffs in clergy cases, donated $20,000 last year. Another big Snap donor: Jeffrey Anderson, a lawyer in St. Paul, Minn. who has 250 clergy cases pending; he donated $10,000, according to Snap's IRS filing. Anderson says he has since donated $20,000 more and pledged another $30,000 matching grant for 2003.
The 3,000-member Linkup lists as its largest donor an Oregon plaintiff lawyer who has 50 clergy cases pending and last year made a $100,000 joint donation with a client who received a settlement from a religious order. The lawyer, Michael S. Morey, says the client put up two-thirds of the $100,000. Another Linkup donor is Joseph Klest, a lawyer who has handled more than 50 Catholic clergy cases in Illinois and who gave $2,615 to Linkup last year, according to Linkup's IRS filing.
Linkup's president, Susan Archibald, says she hopes to get a donation from William McMurry, a plaintiff lawyer in a recent $25.7 million settlement from Louisville's Catholic archdiocese. McMurry says he has made no promises.
The symbiotic alliance makes Mitchell Garabedian squeamish. The lawyer last year negotiated a $10 million settlement for 86 plaintiffs in Boston, but he won't give money to advocate groups because he believes the practice violates legal ethics guidelines. "It's sort of a solicitation," he says.
Hogwash, say Anderson, Drivon and Morey. "It's not a solicitation. I don't think I've ever gotten a case from Snap," Drivon says.
But Drivon has received help. Snap last year urged California legislators to pass a bill that Drivon helped draft. The law lifted the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse crimes, allowing Drivon to bring hundreds of lawsuits based on decades-old claims, which could earn him millions. Drivon says his donation to Snap had nothing to do with Snap's support of the bill.
Maybe not, but Snap and other lawyer-funded victim groups are now awash in money. Snap started up in 1990, and for most of its existence the group has squeaked by on less than $2,000 a year. Last year Snap raised $140,000, spending $52,000 on salaries. Linkup last year took in $126,000, up from $29,000 in 2001, says Archibald. She says, however, that she collected no salary.
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