Diocese Says Suit May Be Its Undoing
Church Lawyers Want Judge out
By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer [Burlington OH]
November 14, 2003
BURLINGTON - In a motion seeking a new judge to oversee a class-action suit against the Covington Diocese, church attorneys claim the diocese's future is in peril.
Church attorney Mark Guilfoyle of Covington questioned Boone Circuit Judge Jay Bamberger's impartiality "in this unprecedented class proceeding, in which the diocese's financial ability to carry out its religious mission in the future may well be at stake."
Bamberger certified the nation's first class-action lawsuit against a Catholic diocese in October. Attorneys for plaintiffs say the suit could involve as many as 500 to 1,000 alleged victims of abuse by priests in the Covington Diocese since the mid-1950s. The diocese contends the true number of victims is less than 200.
The motion, which was denied by Bamberger on Thursday, listed three reasons why he should remove himself.
The motion stated Bamberger cannot be impartial because he went to Catholic schools, including attending a seminary for a time.
Guilfoyle wrote that Bamberger even attended an out-of-state camping trip while in high school with a priest who has since been accused by others of sexual abuse.
Bamberger responded in a four-page ruling in which he accused the diocese of "forum shopping."
"For the record, there was never any impropriety between (me) and the referenced priest, or any priest, so how that prejudices the church is baffling to (me)," Bamberger wrote.
The diocese also argued that Bamberger was "best of friends" with a trial consultant hired by the plaintiffs and knew some of the alleged victims.
One alleged victim, the diocese said, is a high-ranking law enforcement official in Northern Kentucky who has business before the court.
Bamberger again rejected the argument, pointing out that he considered the diocese's own attorney a friend.
"If this court was restricted from hearing cases where 'friends' were involved, the judicial system would not function," Bamberger wrote. "It is rare that this court hears a case where a 'friend' is not involved."
The judge said the church could still appeal to the Chief Justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court to have him removed.
Bamberger is the only circuit judge assigned to Boone County, though a senior judge has been assigned to help.
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