Accuser Settles with Diocese
Lead Plaintiff Gets out of Class-Action Lawsuit
By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer [Kentucky]
December 5, 2003
BURLINGTON - The lead plaintiff in the nation's first class-action lawsuit alleging the Roman Catholic Diocese actively covered up sexual abuse by its priests has settled his claim outside of court.
He is among 32 people who have reached out-of-court settlements with the Covington Diocese totaling more than $6 million within the last three months, church officials announced Thursday.
Officials would not release the dollar figure for individual claims.
The former lead plaintiff said the lawsuit process was impersonal.
The man, who said he was sexually abused as a child, said he was not prepared for the attacks that attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the suit have lobbed at the Covington Diocese. He said he found more peace in resolving his claim directly with the diocese.
"I personally am extremely relieved to no longer be a named class member in the ... lawsuit against the Diocese of Covington," said the man. He had come forward initially to join the suit, saying he was abused 21 years ago at a Roman Catholic school. "For many months being head of the class (lawsuit) I had feelings of emptiness and lacked good peace of mind."
Jeff Anderson, a St. Paul, Minn., lawyer who has tracked similar litigation for 20 years, said he isn't surprised at the man's remarks.
"Treating these types of claims like they are 'coupon cases' is not the best way to proceed," said Anderson, who has represented some 700 alleged victims from Los Angeles to Cincinnati. "I'm always pleased to see victims getting some kind of justice, but in my opinion, a class-action suit is not the best way to heal the survivors."
Anderson is not involved in the class-action suit.
Bob Steinberg, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, said class-action status is the best way to proceed. He said it allows out-of-state residents and others, who couldn't afford to bring an individual lawsuit, to benefit from any court victory.
The class action also allows people to get a complete picture of how the diocese handled claims of abuse, he said.
The 35-year-old, though, said he felt "like a number" during the lawsuit process. He complained that the attorneys heading the case never seemed to focus on what his story was and were not "real interested" in the details of the severity of his abuse.
In the settlement process, he was represented by attorney Barbara Bonar of Covington, who has represented several clients who settled with the diocese.
One of the class-action attorneys, Steinberg, said he couldn't discuss specific attorney-client communication. However, he said, "Myself and other class counsel met with (the man) many times and spoke to him on the phone many times. He was the number-one class representative, and there was more focus on him than anyone."
Steinberg spent 18 years as a magistrate judge in federal court handling, among other legal issues, class-action cases. He also worked 10 years in the U.S. Attorney's office as a federal prosecutor.
"It is an obligation of a class representative to put the interest of a class above their personal interest," Steinberg said. "If a person's main interest is in their own individual settlement they can no longer be a class representative. But that is no criticism of the person."
The former plaintiff did not wish to detail his claims of abuse. In court records, he said a priest at St. Joseph's Elementary School in Camp Strings abused him in 1981 and 1982, when he was 13. He claimed the abuse took place at various locations in the Northern Kentucky area, including the diocesan-assigned residence of the priest.
"The nature of the lawsuit has to do with very personal issues and concerns, and I learned over the months through my experience in the class action that each abused person should be able to tell their story up front," the former plaintiff said. "For me, the class-action lawsuit became out of the question, and that's why I got out."
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