Needless Controversy

The Kentucky Post [Kentucky]
Downloaded December 22, 2003

It happened in a roundabout way, but the appointment of a new judge to preside over the class-action lawsuit in Boone Circuit Court against the Diocese of Covington is something to celebrate and not just if you're on the church's defense team.

John W. Potter, a former Jefferson Circuit Court judge who now handles cases as a senior judge, replaces Boone Circuit Judge Jay Bamberger, who announced recently he planned to retire effective Jan. 5.

Bamberger was embroiled in a nasty legal battle with church attorneys, who wanted him to step off the case because of his close friendship with a jury consultant working for attorneys suing the church. Accusing the church of "forum shopping," Bamberger had fought the attempts and threatened to hold its attorneys in contempt for their tactics.

The parties were waiting for Kentucky Chief Justice Joseph Lambert to rule on the issue when Bamberger retired and recused himself.

The chain of events removes a needless layer of controversy from the lawsuit, which alleges a 50-year cover-up of sexual abuse involving dozens of priests.

As much respect as we have for Bamberger, who handled the busiest docket in the state and numerous high-profile cases with grace and efficiency, we think it was time for him to step down from the case anyway. The lawsuit is too important to be muddied with questions about the judge's impartiality.

We don't begrudge the judge his friendships, but his ties to jury consultant Mark Modlin does raise a level of concern. Whether that concern initially was enough to disqualify Bamberger from presiding over the class-action lawsuit is arguable, but it's apparent the church's motion engendered some hard feelings.

Now perhaps Potter can return the focus to the matter at hand -- determining whether the church should be held liable for failing to curb decades of abuse by priests.


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