Judge Assigned to Priest Case
Bamberger Replacement Comes out of Retirement

By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer [Kentucky]
December 20, 2003

BURLINGTON - A Jefferson County judge who retired in 2000 to earn a master's degree in forestry from Yale University, was assigned Friday to oversee the nation's first class-action suit alleging sexual abuse by priests.

John W. Potter has since come out of retirement and will replace Boone Circuit Judge Jay Bamberger. Bamberger removed himself from the case Monday after announcing he will retire at the end of the year.

Potter, 60, declined to talk about the case when reached at his home in Louisville Friday. As a senior status judge, Potter has agreed to work 120 days a year for five years in exchange for an increase in state retirement benefits.

He inherits a case that was put on hold last month when a diocesan attorney asked the chief justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court to remove Bamberger. The diocese claimed the judge was biased against the church. Bamberger, a veteran and well-respected judge in Northern Kentucky, retired before the chief justice had a chance to rule.

Bamberger certified the nation's first class-action lawsuit against a Catholic diocese in October. Attorneys for the 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.

Potter, who grew up on a farm in Oldham County, is a graduate of Harvard University and Vanderbilt law school. He was appointed a circuit judge in 1982 and was elected later that year.

Potter has handled controversial and high-profile cases before.

He was involved in the case between Eli Lilly & Co., maker of the anti-depressant Prozac, and the victims of a workplace shooting that took place in Louisville in 1989.

Those injured in the shooting and the families of the eight people who died filed a product-liability lawsuit against Lilly. They claimed Prozac had made the shooter, Joseph Wesbecker, violent. After a three-month trial, a jury ruled that Prozac was not responsible.

But Potter, who resided over the trial, went public with his suspicion the two sides had reached a secret agreement before the jury began deliberating. He learned both sides agreed to withhold some evidence in exchange for Lilly paying the plaintiffs - even if the jury found that Prozac was not responsible for Wesbecker's actions.

More recently, Potter has been praised for helping Bullitt County deal with a backlog of hundreds of felony cases. He was assigned the task by the chief justice in November after the backlog became a statewide scandal. Some cases in Bullitt County had languished nearly two decades.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.