Court Rules against Seattle Archdiocese

Associated Press, carried in KGW [Seattle WA]
March 12, 2004

An attempt to dismiss a sexual abuse lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle has failed, in a decision with possible statewide implications.

The Seattle Archdiocese asked a King County Superior Court judge to throw out a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a 1988 change in state law. That change extended the statute of limitations for victims of childhood sex abuse, allowing them up to three years after the time they realize they were abused to file a lawsuit.

On Thursday, Judge Paris Kallas ruled against the archdiocese's argument and declined to dismiss the case.

The Spokane Diocese has filed a similar argument in court cases here.

"This is a blow to the Spokane Diocese because their claims are directly controverted by existing case law in Washington," Tim Kosnoff, an attorney representing several victims in Spokane, told The Spokesman-Review newspaper. "For us, it's good news."

The issue is important because most of the known cases of child sexual abuse by clergy occurred more than a decade ago.

Earlier this month, attorneys for the Spokane Diocese asked a Spokane County Superior Court judge to determine whether the Legislature was wrong to broaden the statute of limitations for childhood sex abuse victims. If approved, the motion could lead to the dismissal of 11 lawsuits alleging clergy sexual abuse against roughly 40 victims.

A hearing is scheduled for April 23 before Judge Maryann Moreno.

Although Moreno is not bound by the King County judge's decision, "the fact that another judge in the state has considered these arguments and rejected them has got to help us," Kosnoff said.

The case in Seattle involved a victim who refused to settle with the Archdiocese of Seattle, attorneys say. Identified only by his initials, M.W. was one of 16 men who contended he was sexually abused by the Rev. James McGreal, who retired from the clergy in 1988.

In September, the archdiocese agreed to pay $7.87 million to 15 of McGreal's victims. But M.W. wanted his case heard in court, his attorney, Michael Pfau, said in a previous interview. Pfau is also representing several victims in lawsuits against the Diocese of Spokane.

A trial in King County is scheduled for March 22.

When they filed their motion in Spokane County, lawyers for the Spokane Diocese said their move was strictly a constitutional issue. The change in 1988 allowed for retroactive legislation, they said, which violates due process by depriving defendants of vested rights. They also contend that it goes against the doctrine of separation of powers.

Mike Geraghty, attorney for the diocese, declined to comment on the Seattle ruling.


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