Diocese's Pick of Ex-Judge Assailed
Albany-- Lawyer for Priests' Accusers Says Howard Levine Cannot Act Independently
By Brian Nearing
Albany Times Union [Albany NY]
December 9, 2003
A lawyer for victims of sexual abuse by priests criticized on Monday Bishop Howard Hubbard's appointment of retired state Judge Howard Levine to create a program for the diocese to provide victims with financial compensation and counseling.
Attorney John Aretakis said Levine, named Friday to the unpaid position, cannot be independent of the diocese -- as Hubbard promised -- because Levine's law firm represents Theresa F. Rodrigues, the diocese's victim/survivor assistance coordinator.
Aretakis sued the diocese and Rodrigues over efforts to have alleged victims undergo counseling through the diocese before abuse claims could be negotiated. The suit was dismissed in state Supreme Court by Justice Christian Hummel, but Aretakis is appealing.
"The bishop chose Judge Levine to lend some credibility to their program," Aretakis said. "But for them to claim this process will be independent of the diocese is a bald-faced lie. This is a serious connection."
Levine, who retired from the state Court of Appeals this year, is senior counsel at Whiteman Osterman & Hanna in Albany. His son, Neil, is a partner. The elder Levine said the firm's legal work for Rodrigues won't color his judgment on formulating a plan for the diocese.
"I did some work on this case. The work was not for the diocese, and the legal bills were paid by her insurance, not by the diocese," he said. "What Mr. Aretakis is saying is completely without foundation."
Levine is also a former state Supreme Court judge, Schenectady County Family Court judge and Schenectady County district attorney.
Diocese spokesman Ken Goldfarb defended the bishop's choice of Levine. "We believe Judge Levine is uniquely qualified to develop and administer an expanded program of assistance to individuals who as children were sexually abused by clergy. We do not believe that Judge Levine should be disqualified because another lawyer in a firm with which he is associated on an of-counsel basis represented Theresa Rodrigues," said Goldfarb in a prepared statement.
Goldfarb said the program Levine will create will be an "entirely voluntary program" and anyone who objects to Levine or the program he develops is free to decline to take part.
Aretakis said he doubted that Rodrigues pays her own insurance premiums for her work with the diocese. "She is getting paid $40,000 a year and she pays for her own malpractice insurance? Give me a break," he said.
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